Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday cancelled scheduled peace talks with the Turkish Cypriot leader over what he sees as attempts to recognize the Turkish-held north of the divided island.
The move comes after he snubbed a state dinner at the humanitarian summit in Istanbul on Monday on discovering that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci was also invited.
“With regret President Anastasiades has ascertained there is no fertile ground to hold a planned meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader on May 27,” a statement from government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said.
Anastasiades said he remained committed to peace talks but appears to have called off Friday's meeting as a way of protest.
It is the first serious hitch in UN-brokered peace talks that resumed a year ago and comes despite both leaders saying in a May 15 joint statement that they remain as committed as ever to reunifying the Mediterranean island in 2016.
Akinci’s last-minute invitation to the dinner by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was seen as an attempt to undermine Anastasiades as head of state and bolster the status of the Turkish-occupied north which only Ankara recognizes.
While in Turkey, Akinci also met UN chief Ban Ki-moon on the summit sidelines.
Nicosia called Monday's events “unacceptable”, and also accused UN Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide of involvement in a deeply sensitive diplomatic game.
Anastasiades said he was determined to continue the Cyprus talks “provided that it meets the rule of mutual respect… not unilateral moves designed to upgrade the pseudo-state”.
“Similar moves by anyone involved, not excluding the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, not only don't help, but rather undermine the ongoing process,” the statement added.
It had been thought that good chemistry between Anastasiades and Akinci could create a climate of trust that might lead to an elusive deal.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Long-stalled UN-brokered peace talks – seen as the best chance to reunify Cyprus – began in May 2016, with the leaders meeting regularly since then.
Despite both expressing the hope that a settlement can be reached this year, this latest incident has soured the climate.
Ankara does not recognize the Cyprus government and this has harmed its European Union accession process and threatened a visa-free travel deal in exchange for Turkey helping to ease the migrant crisis.