Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to intensify talks to reunify their island today after meeting in Geneva with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has warned that substantive agreement in the next few months is crucial to avoid potential failure.
Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu have clearly worked to move closer together through a range of bridging proposals on the economy, governance and power-sharing since he last met with them in November, but more work must be done to reach further accords on outstanding core issues, Mr. Ban told reporters.
“Today, we have identified a number of elements designed to maintain momentum and to address more directly the details of a workable, mutually beneficial solution,” he stated. The Mediterranean island has been split since inter-communal violence erupted in 1964.
The UN-sponsored talks, which began in 2008, seek to set up a federal government with a single international personality in a bi-zonal, bi-communal country, with a Turkish Cypriot constituent state and a Greek Cypriot constituent state of equal status.
“The meeting’s spirited and substantive discussions contributed to clearing the air on several key issues. The leaders have discussed the outstanding key issues in a more interrelated fashion, since a settlement proposal will need to consist of an integrated package across chapters,” Mr. Ban added, offering to provide experts to help resolve technical aspects of one of the core differences – property.
As noted by Mr. Ban in a report to the Security Council in December, the Greek Cypriots say those with property in the north should be able to seek reinstatement, while Turkish Cypriots say that if all property owners were allowed reinstatement, it would be impossible for Turkish Cypriots to secure bizonality. They want a ceiling on those who can have properties reinstated instead of compensation.
He also warned in that report that the talks could “founder fatally” if substantive agreement is not reached within the next few months. “A critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing,” he said, stressing that Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections in May and elections in Turkey in June militate against constructive talks in the second quarter of 2011.
Today Mr. Ban noted that both sides agreed to intensify the talks with a series of additional meetings in the coming weeks, and he pledged to make himself available to them again soon to continue to take stock of progress and encourage them in further narrowing the differences.
“As recent surveys have shown, both communities in Cyprus want more than talks: they want a solution,” he said. “The leaders have heard that message and they are acting. I welcome the steps that the leaders have taken today which give a clear indication of their commitment to reunifying Cyprus as soon as possible.”
The Secretary-General will provide the Security Council with a report on the state of the talks at the end of February. “I am certain that if the constructive spirit that I witnessed today continues, I will have a positive report to submit,” he said.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have met 90 times under UN sponsorship since 2008, apart from additional meetings between their representatives. The UN has maintained a peacekeeping mission on the island since the 1964 violence.
Neither Mr. Ban nor the two leaders took questions today, citing the “great sensitivity” of the issues.