Cyprus president spurns haste in peace talks

16 January 2016
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Cyprus’ president on Friday sought to tone down what he called “excessive optimism” that ongoing talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided Mediterranean island are on the verge of a breakthrough.

President Nicos Anastasiades said an accord is possible this year but warned against undue haste and a “climate of euphoria” being whipped up, saying time is still needed to overcome remaining difficulties.

“To paint a picture that were just shy of an overall settlement is a mistake,” Anastasiades told The Associated Press in an interview.

He said recent statements by foreign officials, including United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide, that raised expectations of a speedy deal may have been intended to bolster momentum to carry forward the talks that have been billed as the best chance at peace in decades.

“There are many details left that must be discussed and agreed on,” he said. “We mustn’t leave any constructive ambiguities or unresolved issues that touch on the core aspects of a settlement.”

Anastasiades said he would brief U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on the talks at a meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week.

Eide said after briefing the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that a peace deal is “more than possible,” but that a lot of work still remains to be done and that he doesn’t want to create the impression that an agreement “is just around the corner.”

“Some of the essential issues for both communities are yet to be tackled,” he said.

Failure has marked numerous rounds of talks since 1974 when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece.

The Cypriot president said significant progress has been made with Mustafa Akinci, a moderate elected last April as leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, whom he credited with a “genuine wish” to reach a settlement.

But Anastasiades said Akinci is expressing what he called “positions that reflect concerns of the past.” One such issue is an insistence that Turkish Cypriots remain the majority in terms of population and ownership of private property inside a constituent state they will govern as part of an envisioned federation.

Most property in the island’s north, where the Turkish Cypriot constituent state would be established, belongs to Greek Cypriots, prompting Turkish Cypriot fears they would be swamped.

Anastasiades said any such limitations would be in breach of a person’s right to choose where they live.

The Cypriot president said Turkish Cypriot fears may be assuaged by an accord that entrenches their right to run their own affairs, irrespective of how many Greek Cypriots reside in their zone.

Most Turkish Cypriots also want a peace accord to keep in place military intervention rights that were given to Turkey, Greece and Britain under Cyprus’ existing constitution.

Anastasiades proposed a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force operating under a new mandate to provide post-settlement security for a number of years. He said the new mandate would also empower the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on any side breaching the agreement.

Anastasiades said the cost of reunification will be high. Donations from other countries in combination with low-interest loans from international financial institutions will be needed to finance peace.

The Cypriot president added that a reunified Cyprus can serve as a prime example of Christians and Muslims living peacefully in a region tormented by sectarian-driven violence and facilitate regional diplomacy.

A deal could also allow Turkey to meet its energy needs with supplies of newly found, east Mediterranean gas and to fulfill its vision of becoming a key conveyor of gas to Europe.

Anastasiades said he would have no objections to a pipeline feeding gas to Turkey from deposits in Israeli and Egyptian waters through Cyprus as long as a reunification agreement is achieved.

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