The newly elected president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Mustafa Akinci has announced plans to resume peace talks with the Greek Cypriot administration after a seven-month stalemate.
"There is an important opportunity for the solution of Cyprus issue and the talks will resume," Akinci said in a press conference with the UN’s envoy to the eastern Mediterranean island Espen Barth Eide on Monday.
Eide concurred with the Turkish Cypriot leader, saying the resumption of talks was the “best opportunity” of the decade to finally solve the “Cyprus Problem.”
“I think there’s a very positive momentum, but it’s not the UN that runs this process – it is the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots,” Eide said.
The island of Cyprus has been ethnically divided since a military coup by the Greek junta in a bid to unite the island with Greece in July 1974 led to Turkey exercising its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to conduct a military intervention in the island.
Almost a decade after Turkey secured the northern third of the island and a population exchange between Turkish Cypriots in the south and Greek Cypriots in the north, failure to reach an agreement with the Greek Cypriots to restore the constitutional government led to the Turkish Cypriots declaring the independence of the TRNC - which is only recognised by Turkey.
A number of attempts were made to restore the constitution since then, with the latest case being a referendum in 2004 prior to the Greek Cypriot administration’s accession to the EU.
While 64.9 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite the island, which would have secured the withdrawal of Turkish troops, 75.8 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification.
Despite the failure of the plan proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, talks continued until they were suspended in 2012 when the Greek Cypriot administration took over the EU presidency.
Negotiations resumed two years later in February 2014 when former Turkish Cypriot president Dervis Eroglu issued a joint statement with his Greek Cypriot counterpart vowing to work for a UN-backed peace deal that will see the island united as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
Talks were later stalled again when Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades withdrew from negotiations last October after Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel to the island’s waters to search for hydrocarbon reserves.
The deployment of the vessel came on the same day joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas began drilling for hydrocarbon reserves in the Greek Cypriots’ declared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, had warned against drilling before a deal between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is achieved.
However, the withdrawal of the Eni-Kogas consortium from island’s waters earlier in April allowed Turkey to also withdraw its ship, thus presenting a window of opportunity for the talks to restart.
Turkish Cypriot President Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart President Anastasiades are expected to announce a date for the resumption of talks in their first meeting scheduled for May 11 since Akinci was sworn in last week.
Akinci’s newly selected Chief Negotiator, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami, said the negotiations “will resume where they left off, accepting all agreements reached with the Greek Cypriot side to date.”
“A solution by year-end is our goal,” Nami said.
UN envoy Eide will now meet with President Anastasiades on Tuesday to discuss the peace process, while President Akinci is due to make his first official visit abroad as Turkish Cypriot leader to Ankara to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.