Erdogan says Turks, Greeks remain at odds on Cyprus problem
GENEVA - Hopes for a peace deal in Cyprus stalled Friday over a decades-old dispute, with the rival sides at loggerheads over the future of Turkish troops on the divided island.
A week of UN-brokered talks in Geneva between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci sparked optimism that an agreement to reunify the island could be at hand.
But any settlement will require an agreement on Cyprus's future security, with consent needed from key players Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain -- who all joined the talks Thursday.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
And a key sticking point remains the presence of some 30,000 Turkish troops in the north of the island.
Ankara and Akinci have insisted that some Turkish military presence is essential for Turkish Cypriots to feel safe in a prospective united country.
Anastasiades on Friday restated his position that a timeline must be agreed for those troops to eventually withdraw.
And Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said there can be no solution to the four-decade division of Cyprus while Turkish "occupation" troops remain.
"A just solution (to division) means, first of all, eliminating what caused it, namely the occupation and presence of occupation forces," Kotzias said, according to a ministry statement as he left Geneva.
- ‘Different expectations’ -
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Friday that a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus was "out of the question".
Erdogan said that Athens and Greek Cypriots still have "different expectations" on resolving the Cyprus problem from their Turkish counterparts.
He said Turkish Cypriots "are working intensely and bring sincerity", but that the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and Athens "still have different expectations".
He added in televised comments that a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus was "out of the question".
"This is what we had previously discussed," he added.
Erdogan indicated there were also major differences on the issue of a rotating presidency for any future bizonal united Cyprus divided between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot entities.
He said it was "unacceptable" that Turkish Cypriots could hold the presidency for just one term while Greek Cypriots had it for four.
He has said previously that there had been discussions on the Greek Cypriots having two terms for every term granted to the Turkish Cypriots.
"That is fair. If we want a fair and comprehensive peace then this is the way to do it," he said.
Indicating that Ankara was not in the mood for concessions he added: "Apart from this, we told [negotiators in Geneva] that 'no one should expect anything from us'".
Cypriot leaders pledged to forge ahead with efforts to reunite the divided island claiming "real progress" at an unprecedented meeting in Geneva bringing together all the protagonists, including the three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey, and Britain.
There had been rumours Erdogan himself could attend but in the end the meeting was attended by foreign ministers of the three guarantor powers.
- 'A grave mistake' -
Asked about Erdogan's remarks, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide insisted that efforts to end one of the world's longest running political crises would not be derailed over a temporary war of words.
Discussions on security had just begun and the issue is "highly emotional", he said.
A 1960 agreement gave Britain, Greece and Turkey the right to intervene to defend Cyprus's sovereign integrity, which Ankara used to justify its invasion.
Eide said that by joining the peace process, the camps had accepted that this so-called "guarantor power" system was destined to change.
Britain and Greece have said they were happy to scrap the deal, but for Turkey it remains a priority.
Akinci struck a more moderate tone on the issue than Erdogan.
Letting the talks fail would be "a grave mistake", he said, calling the guarantor power deal "a system (that) belongs to 1960."
"Now we are in 2017," he added. "How do we adapt this system through a mutually accepted formula which will secure the security concerns of Turkish Cypriots but at the same time would not cause any threat for the other community?"
Technical experts from all sides were due to reconvene in Switzerland on January 18 to table concrete proposals for a new security pact.
- 'Cannot create winners and losers' -
The UN process is aimed at forging a republic with two zones that would be a full European Union member.
Despite the roadblocks ahead, Anastasiades said the two sides were "on a path that creates hope" and that compromise was key.
"A solution cannot create winners and leave losers (in its wake). If we want it to be viable and durable, all must understand, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, that a fine balance must be struck," he told reporters in Geneva.
Earlier in the week, the rival sides tackled thorny domestic questions like the composition of a unified government and land swaps.
In an unprecedented moment, they exchanged maps late Wednesday detailing their visions of how internal boundaries should be redrawn.
Turkish Cypriot leaders have accepted to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup, although disputes remain over certain areas and a final version has not been agreed. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to the Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Turkish Cypriots made up just 18 percent of the island's population in 1974, but they currently control more than a third of its territory, with their population bolstered since 1974 by settlers from the Turkish mainland.
Cyprus is often described as one of the most militarised places on earth with the presence of UN peacekeepers, Turkish troops, two sovereign British bases and a Greek army contingent.