NICOSIA, Cyprus — Crucial talks being held at a Swiss resort aiming to reunify ethnically divided Cyprus have hit an impasse, officials said Monday, in a serious setback that casts doubt over whether 18 months of negotiations can successfully resolve the decades-old dispute.
Cyprus’ government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said United Nations-backed talks on how much territory Greek and Turkish Cypriots will administratively control under an envisioned federation have proven “inconclusive.”
“This isn’t good for anyone,” Christodoulides told reporters after the talks broke off shortly after midnight Monday. We are not at all happy with the outcome.”
A U.N. statement said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have failed to narrow differences on the territorial aspect of a deal over two days of negotiations at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland.
“Despite their best efforts, they have not been able to achieve the necessary further convergences on criteria for territorial adjustment that would have paved the way for the last phase of talks,” the statement said.
A deal on territory would have paved the way for a final summit bringing together Greece, Turkey and Cyprus’ former colonial ruler Britain to agree on how implement security arrangements in a reunified island.
A 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece divided Cyprus into an internationally recognized, Greek-speaking south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
The U.N. statement said Anastasiades and Akinci have decided to return to Cyprus “and reflect on the way forward.”
U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide will brief U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the result.
Christodoulides said the main area of disagreement was on the amount of territory that would make up the federal zones each side would run. Greek Cypriots sought the return of enough territory that would enable as many as 100,000 displaced people to return to the homes and property they lost during the war. That would serve to build support for an accord that would be put to a vote and help reduce the costs involved with compensating those unable to return.
Akinci’s spokesman Baris Burcu accused the Greek Cypriot side of being inflexible in negotiations and of keeping a “maximalist” approach, even as Turkish Cypriots agreed to cede about 7 per cent of the territory now under their control.
Christodoulides dismissed Burcu’s accusation as “not corresponding with reality.”
“Now is not the time to apportion blame,” he said.
Neither Christodoulides nor Burcu would say what the next step was, saying they would reevaluate where things stand on their return to Cyprus.
Numerous rounds of talks over four decades have ended in failure. Officials repeatedly said this latest round has marked significant progress especially on how power will be shared between the majority Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.
A reunified Cyprus would usher in a significant degree of stability in a tumultuous region and unlock co-operation on newly-found undersea gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean among rival neighbours.
But important obstacles remain, including Turkish military intervention rights that Turkish Cypriots insist are vital to their security and that Greek Cypriots reject as a threat.
Monday’s impasse dashed the hopes of hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who gathered inside the U.N. controlled buffer zone dividing the capital, Nicosia, to demonstrate for peace.
Waving peace flags and dancing to Cypriot folk music, the event aimed underscore the determination of Cypriots from both sides for reunification.
“Fear is holding us back,” said Greek Cypriot Rania Georgiou. “Our future must be a shared one.”