Cyprus president cuts short Turkey trip after protocol row

ATHENS (Reuters) - Cyprus’s president canceled scheduled peace talks and cut short a visit to Turkey on Tuesday, his spokesman said, after a United Nations summit treated the rival Turkish Cypriot leader as a head of state.

Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

The protocol row underscored the sensitivity and complexity of the Cyprus conflict, a decades-old conundrum that generations of diplomats and an army of peacemakers have failed to crack.

It was also an unexpected hiccup in an otherwise positive progression of peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

President Nicos Anastasiades was in Turkey attending a U.N. humanitarian summit but refused to attend a banquet for heads of state on Monday evening because Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who represents breakaway north Cyprus, was also invited.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes the breakaway North Cyprus statelet.

Implicitly blaming the U.N. for the controversy, Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said there was ‘no fertile ground’ for Friday’s planned meeting in Nicosia.

Nonetheless, he added, Anastasiades was still committed to the peace process on the ethnically divided island. In a series of Tweets, Akinci said the matter was blown out of proportion.

The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

The Greek Cypriots, who represent the whole island in the European Union, are sensitive to any perceived attempt to place them on an equal footing with north Cyprus, which is backed financially and militarily by Turkey.

Anastasiades and Akinci are engaged in reunification talks for Cyprus as leaders of their respective communities.

“The President of the Republic reiterates his decisiveness to continue the dialogue as long as the principle of mutual respect and the will for an acceptable solution are maintained. Without unilateral moves which seek to upgrade the pseudo-state,” Christodoulides said in a statement.

Such actions by any party - “with the special adviser of the UN Secretary general not excluded” - undermine the process, he said.

It was not immediately clear who invited Akinci to the summit. His Twitter account showed pictures of him with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. special envoy Espen Barth Eide.

“I find the extreme reaction to this meeting meaningless,” said Akinci. “We will continue our efforts for a solution without giving up.”

Reporting by Michele Kambas and Seda Sezer; Editing by Tom Heneghan