Rival Cypriot leaders pledge to back UN-led peace initiative

Nicosia (AFP) –


Rival Cypriot leaders held a rare meeting on Tuesday in which they pledged to support a United Nations-led Cyprus peace push involving Greece, Turkey and Britain, officials said.

It was the first meeting between Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar since the Ankara-backed hardliner was elected in the breakaway north of divided Cyprus last month.

The pair "expressed their determination to positively respond to the UN secretary-general's commitment to explore the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-United Nations meeting, in a conducive climate, at an appropriate stage," a carefully worded UN statement said.

Anastasiades told reporters after the meeting that "Mr Tatar said he was willing to take part in an informal five-party summit, but other ideas should be put on the table."

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in reaction to a Greek-engineered coup aiming to annex the island.

There have been no official UN-sponsored Cyprus settlement negotiations since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Turkey, Britain and Greece –- collapsed in July 2017.

Britain, Greece and Turkey are guarantor powers of the island's sovereignty under a treaty signed by Cyprus to gain independence from British rule in 1960.

"It was the first meeting, we did not go into details or discussions," Anastasiades said.

"Without doubt there is a distance between our positions."

The UN statement did not indicate when further talks might take place.

The leaders' two-hour informal meeting took place at the residence of the UN's head of mission, Elizabeth Spehar, in Nicosia's UN-controlled buffer zone.

Voters in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on October 18 narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Tatar as their president at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

An advocate of a two-state solution with the Republic of Cyprus -- an EU member -- he edged out previous Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he wants to rekindle talks between the two sides.

The TRNC is economically and politically dependent on Turkey -- not least because some 30,000 Turkish troops are on Cypriot soil.

Northern Cyprus is a centrepiece of Turkey's strategy in the eastern Mediterranean, including a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves.

The European Union has deplored Turkey's drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further "provocations".

Tatar was also behind reopening the Greek Cypriot resort of Varosha, a sealed-off ghost town since 1974.

"I raised the issue of Famagusta (Varosha) and in turn he raised the issue of hydrocarbons," Anastasiades told reporters.

Anastasiades has previously said that the Varosha move goes against international law and is an obstacle to resuming peace talks.