U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sought yesterday to steer the rival sides in the Cyprus peace talks to an agreement on a broad range of issues that are holding back a deal to reunify the ethnically divided Mediterranean island nation.
Appearing for the second time at the peace talks taking place in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, Guterres is looking to break the logjam on the ninth — and most crucial day — of discussions.
Given the fine balance between the two sides, Guterres is sounding out each side in order to gauge where the participants stand on key issues, such as future security arrangements for Cyprus, which has been divided for 43 years.
It's hoped he can get the parties to agree on a framework agreement. The details would be worked out in the coming weeks before a finalized accord ending Cyprus' division is put to the island's Greek and Turkish communities for a vote.
"It will be a long day and a long night," said Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı. Earlier, he said "this is a day of decisions."
The latest round of Cyprus talks in Crans-Montana began June 28.
Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, spoke via telephone late Wednesday about a permanent solution for the island.
The leaders agreed it was possible only with equal rights for both communities, according to sources from the Turkish Prime Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
Key to progress in the talks between Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades will be the input of Cyprus' so-called guarantors — Greece, Turkey and Britain.
Although many issues remain unresolved, the island's future security remains a primary stumbling block to an overall accord. The issue revolves around the more than 35,000 troops that Turkey has kept in the island's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks, and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
On Monday, the U.N. received proposals from the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides, as well as from the three guarantor nations. The U.N. is seeking a peace deal to unite Cyprus under a federal umbrella, which could also define the future of Europe's relations with Turkey, a key player in the conflict.
Greek Cypriots perceive the Turkish soldiers as a threat and want them all gone. The island's Turkish Cypriots however want them to stay as their protectors.
Turkey's foreign minister said this week that a full troop withdrawal was out of the question.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu criticized the Greek Cypriots for not showing "good intentions and flexibility" in the talks taking place in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
"If there is to be a solution, we should decide this week, because this is the last conference," Çavuşoğlu had said.
Greece also wants military intervention rights that Cyprus' 1960 constitution granted to the guarantors abolished. Turkey wants to retain some of those rights.
"I think that (Guterres) is showing understanding that a normal state, a term which he himself has adopted, to remain under pressure from third countries, their presence or guarantees or their troops," Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters.
The European Union is also attending. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU fully backs the talks and that she's optimistic. Cyprus is an EU member but only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south enjoys the benefits of membership.
The United States yesterday urged the reunification of Cyprus and called on the opposing Greek Cypriot and Turkish sides to reach a settlement, the White House said after a call between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and leaders on both sides. Pence, who spoke by phone with Republic of Cyprus' Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot Leader Mustafa Akinci, backed talks in Crans-Montana in Switzerland and was confident they could "secure a settlement that would reunify Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation to the benefit of all Cypriots," the White House statement said.