Merkel not discouraged by Turkey-Cyprus setback

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday the most recent disagreement between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus had made the relationship more difficult and patience was required to settle differences.

“This has been a setback but we should not be discouraged,” she said.

Turkey and EU member state Greece are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including the divided island of Cyprus.

Cyprus appealed to the UN Security Council on Wednesday over plans by Turkish Cypriot authorities to partially reopen an abandoned resort, as Turkey repeated its call for a two-state solution on the island despite international criticism.

Turkish Cypriots, backed by Ankara, said on Tuesday that part of Varosha – now a military zone and an area touted in the past to be returned to rival Greek Cypriots – would come under civilian control, and be open for potential resettlement.

It triggered an angry reaction from Cyprus’s internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government, and a chorus of disapproval from western powers, led by the United States, which called the move unacceptable.

The 15 nations on the UN’s most powerful body were expected to consider a statement drafted by Britain that calls for a reversal of the decision to open Varosha and avoid action that could raise tensions on the divided island. If there are no objections it could be approved on Thursday.

There was a closed-door briefing to the council on Wednesday by the departing UN special representative.

It focused on Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar’s announcement on Tuesday that a 3.5-square-kilometre section of the Varosha suburb would revert from military to civilian control.

Mr Tatar made the announcement before a military parade attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The island was divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south in 1974 after Turkey’s invasion, which was prompted by a coup aimed at Cyprus’s union with Greece.

UN-mediated talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus ended in failure, with the last push for a peace deal, in July 2017, ending in acrimony.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held informal talks with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva in April, which failed to make headway on the island’s future.

But the UN chief said talks will continue, and: “I do not give up.”

Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’s tourism centre before 1974, with pristine beaches and modern hotels.

After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled before advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced off to stop any access until last year when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its reopening.

Varosha’s former residents denounced the latest move as an attempt to take advantage of their desperation over the area’s future and psychologically pressure them into selling their properties.

Many Turkish Cypriots also condemned the move as undermining continuing efforts at reconciliation between the two communities.

The proposed Security Council statement would reaffirm “that no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha that are not in accordance with its resolutions”.

A resolution from May 11, 1984, says the Security Council “considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations”.

A September 14, 1992 resolution repeats that to implement the 1984 resolution, the area under control of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus should “be extended to include Varosha”.

The draft presidential statement emphasises the importance of implementing council resolutions “including the transfer of Varosha to UN administration”.

It would also express “deep concern” at Tuesday’s announcement “on the reopening of an area constituting 3.4 per cent of the fenced-off area of Varosha and the resettlement of this same area”.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the move was a veiled attempt by Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkey, to acquire more territory.

Mr Anastasiades said it could scuttle peace efforts and be in breach of council resolutions prohibiting any change to the coastal area’s status.

He leads Cyprus’s internationally recognised government in the south, which is a member of the EU, unlike Turkey.

Mr Erdogan and Mr Tatar have said a permanent peace in Cyprus can come only through the international community’s recognition of two separate states, upending decades of negotiations for reunification.

The draft presidential statement would reaffirm the Security Council’s commitment “to an enduring, comprehensive and just settlement in accordance with the wishes of the Cypriot people, and based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, as set out in relevant Security Council resolutions”.

This year, Mr Guterres said the Covid-19 pandemic widened longstanding fractures within and between the island’s two communities.

He also referred to rising tension in the eastern Mediterranean region over exploration for oil and gas and delineating maritime boundaries.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said on Wednesday that Mr Guterres was “deeply concerned” about the announcement on Varosha.

The UN chief “has repeatedly called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions and may compromise the ongoing efforts to seek common ground between the parties towards a lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue”, Mr Haq said.

He said the UN position on Varosha was unchanged and followed Security Council resolutions.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeal on Tuesday for Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to reverse the decision on Varosha.

Mr Price called their actions “provocative and unacceptable and incompatible with their past commitments to engage constructively in settlement talks”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to reunification.

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