Turkish Cypriots seek UN chief’s help to speed up peace talks

With Turkish Cypriots pushing for a comprehensive solution to be made on the long-divided Cyprus island before the end of this year, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Dervis Eroglu is in New York to ask United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to personally weigh in to help speed up the peace talks.

Eroglu is expected to meet with the secretary-general late on Monday in New York. Turkish Cypriots are not keen on the idea of a new name being appointed as the UN special envoy for Cyprus, after Alexander Downer left the position in March to take the post of Australian high commissioner to London. KKTC Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami said last week that the Turkish side does not want to waste time with debates over determining a new name for the UN envoy; instead, he argued, the UN secretary-general or one of his aides could personally weigh in to speed up the process.

The leaders of Turkish and Greek Cyprus met in Nicosia in early February and resumed peace talks with the aim of reunifying the island. Cyprus is divided into a Turkish north and an internationally recognized Greek south. The KKTC is recognized only by Turkey, which does not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration.

Eroglu is expected to have a press conference after his meeting with the UN secretary-general. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet with President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Richard N. Haass, a former US diplomat who worked at the US Department of State as the director of policy planning and a close adviser to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.

According to the KKTC’s press office, before leaving for New York on Sunday, Eroglu said there is a great difference between the requests of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots on the negotiation table. Eroglu also criticized Greek Cyprus’ refusal to meet more often to negotiate on a comprehensive solution, as Turkish Cypriots have suggested the process be sped up.

Stressing that Turkish and Greek Cypriots can reach a final, comprehensive solution on Cyprus within three to four months as long as they show the will to do so, Eroglu said, “I can’t say I see the necessary will on the other [Greek] side.”

“What is important is to reach an agreement that would satisfy Turkish Cypriots,” he added.

KKTC Foreign Minister Nami said last week that Turkish Cypriots want to reach a solution before the end of this year. Speaking to members of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association (DMD) in Ankara on Thursday, Nami said there is a positive atmosphere at this time for a solution in Cyprus, and that Turkish and Greek Cypriots should take this chance to reunify the island.

Nami said Turkish Cypriots have offered to meet more often than the current arrangement. The chief negotiators from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides meet once a week, according to the current deal, and both sides’ leaders meet once a month to discuss issues on the table. The offer to meet more often was rejected by the Greek Cypriots, Nami said.

“We [Turkish Cypriots] are focusing only on [developing] a comprehensive solution at this point. That is our only goal, based on two equal states in a federal structure,” Nami said. When asked about reports of whether Turkish Cypriots will ask for two separate, independent states on the island if this recent attempt to find a solution collapses, as reported last week in the media, Nami said: “We don’t have time to spare with such discussions of ‘what if.’ There is only one plan on which we are focusing at this point: a comprehensive solution.”

Nami mentioned his visit to Washington last month, noting that US officials brought up the issue of natural gas around Cyprus and that Israel could provide incentive for the Cyprus peace talks and help to restore security in the region.

Peace talks concerning the island of Cyprus started on Feb. 11 after a push by the US government, a sign of the changing political environment in the region. Experts say that one of the most important incentives to restart the Cyprus negotiations is the natural gas in the area and the billions of dollars that a gas deal would bring to those involved in possible pipeline projects. The US administration backs an energy partnership between Israel, Cyprus and Turkey, so that the mutual energy dependency helps to restore and maintain peace in the east Mediterranean.

According to experts, a pipeline from Cyprus to Turkey, transporting Israeli and Greek Cypriot natural gas, will be cost efficient with a price tag of $2-3 billion. The alternative figure, involving the building of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, liquefying the natural gas and shipping it to Europe, would cost $10-15 billion.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, in an interview with The Associated Press in February, said that a deal would allow Turkey to be supplied with newly found Greek Cypriot and Israeli natural gas and further contribute to improving relations between Turkey and Israel.