Talks on the reunification of Cyprus should resume only if the “political status” of Turkish Cypriots is addressed should the new talks fail, a senior Turkish Cypriot official said.
Outlining positions likely to be rejected outright by Greek Cypriots, Ozdil Nami, the chief Turkish Cypriot negotiator, said the Turkish Cypriots needed assurance that their political status would be spelled out if the talks failed.
Cyprus was split by a Turkish invasion in 1974 that followed a Greek-inspired coup. The breakaway state in the northern part of the island, with a population of about 300,000 people, is recognized only by Turkey. For Greek Cypriots, who run the island's internationally recognized government which represents the whole island in the European Union, any recognition of the north without reunification is out of the question.
“We as the Turkish Cypriot side would insist that the new process, whatever it is going to be, would have to bring clarity to the status of the Turkish Cypriots in international fora,” Nami told Reuters in an interview.
Asked to clarify, Nami said: “It would have to spell out what our political status be, should the Greek Cypriot side once again say 'no'. Either 'no' to taking a deal to referendum, or going to a referendum and saying 'no'."
Pressed further on whether that meant Turkish Cypriots should be accorded some form of recognition if a new initiative sank because of Greek Cypriot recalcitrance, he said: "Exactly."
Talks to unite Cyprus collapsed in July, ending one of the most promising negotiations to resolve the long-running conflict, which is a source of tension between Greece and Turkey and hampers Ankara's hopes of joining the EU. Each side blamed the other for scuppering a deal that would have seen the island united under a two-zone federal system. With a slight shift of present boundaries, northern Cyprus would have become a "constituent state" of the new federal system.
“This political ambiguity hovering about our heads for almost 50 years must end," said Nami, whose office lies a short distance from the green line controlled by the United Nations that splits the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. Since 2003, several crossing points have opened along a 180-kilometer ceasefire line patrolled by the UN. Thousands of people cross daily from one side to the other. Largely peaceful – apart from serious incidents in 1996 in which several people died – both sides say the status quo is not acceptable.
“We need to change the status quo, it is mutually agreed,” Nami said. “We either change it by finalizing a federal settlement, or we change it some other way. In both scenarios, in a mutually agreed way.”
A year after the checkpoints opened, Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint that critics said ran roughshod over the rights of thousands of people uprooted in the 1974 conflict. Proponents called it a realistic, workable alternative reflecting realities on the ground. Turkish Cypriots had voted in favor of the blueprint.
“No one can convince the Turkish Cypriots to once again engage in negotiations that will be hostage of a Greek Cypriot 'no'," Nami said.
Nami said he sensed “huge fatigue” in his community and that he believed the same applied on the Greek Cypriot side.
“I think in order for us to have a credible process we must be able to tell our people this process will have a specific end period, at the end of which, a decision will be taken,” he said. “Otherwise it will be extremely difficult to have the public support necessary behind the process.”