PARIS (Reuters) - Turkish Cyprus’s chief negotiator played down on Wednesday the prospect of a quick solution in peace talks with his Greek rivals, warning that the discovery of natural gas in the region was possibly more of an obstacle than of help.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots re-launched peace talks in February, the latest of many attempts to heal the wounds of a conflict that saw Turkey invade in 1974 after a Greece-inspired coup, followed by the eastern Mediterranean island’s division between its two communities.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in a landmark visit to Cyprus on May 22 that the rival leaders had agreed to speed up the slow-moving talks, restarted after a two-year hiatus, to patch up one of Europe’s most intractable rifts.
But speaking to reporters in Paris, Turkish Cyprus’ chief negotiator Kudret Ozersay said the next phase of talks was uncertain, the first time either side has warned of possible trouble ahead since talks were restarted in February.
“We are against the idea of talks just for talks. We don’t want to be the prisoners of that. We don’t know what will be the next stage, there isn’t a roadmap that we have agreed on,” Ozersay said.
The recent discovery of natural gas under the sea between Cyprus and Israel has added a new dimension to the island’s strife and also heightened tensions between the two sides.
The significance of the find has been amplified by the Ukraine crisis and its possible impact on Russian gas supplies to Europe.
“The fact that one community - one of the co-owners - is treated as if they were eligible to do whatever they want about hydrocarbons without getting the consent of the other, it cannot help the Cyprus problem, on the contrary it could be a kind of obstacle,” Ozersay said.
Power sharing, redrawing property boundaries and the claims of thousands of displaced persons are key issues in the conflict. Any agreement must be put to separate referendums in Cyprus’ two communities, which are both mistrustful after previous failed talks.
“Our counterpart is unwilling to accept fully the convergences that were agreed, (and) they want to change some of these convergences that were (agreed) before,” Ozersay said, declining to give specific details.
“This is something disturbing for us and we’re not happy to see this.”
He was referring to the position of the present Greek Cypriot leadership that any agreements brokered in previous peace talks between 2008 and 2012 would be reviewed. Those were partial convergences on issues such as competencies of a future Cyprus federal government and on the functioning of the economy.
Diplomats avoid using the word “agreement” since Cypriot negotiations are always held with the premise that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Ozersay was in Paris to discuss the negotiation process, the first time a senior Turkish Cypriot was welcomed at the French foreign ministry.
The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognized as representing the whole island, and represents Cyprus in the European Union, where it has veto rights on the aspirations of Turkey to join the bloc.
Ozersay said there had been broad progress on issues ranging from federal legislature to a federal judiciary and a federal police.
“So far we achieved certain progress on certain issues. Is it sufficient? No.”
He also said both sides had failed to agree on the fate of the northern Cyprus town of Varosha, once a thriving holiday resort that welcomed Hollywood stars like Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, but which has been left deserted since 1974, occupied only by patrolling Turkish soldiers.
“We failed (on Varosha). I don’t want to going to more details why, but we failed,” he said.
Additional reporting and writing by John Irish; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky