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Expectations for next month’s high-level talks on resolving longstanding conflict remained tempered. Ahead of five-plus-one talks – which will include UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – scheduled for 27-29 April in Geneva, sides remained far apart on desired outcomes: Turkey/Turkish Cypriots favour solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greece/Republic of Cyprus continue to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Turkish President Erdoğan 19 March called for debate around new and realistic options “instead of dictating to the sides past models that have proven to be unsuccessful”. Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel 8 March signed Memorandum of Understanding on project to establish new energy grid transporting electricity from Israel-Cyprus to Europe through Greece; Ankara 16 March issued verbal note requesting information and that its approval be sought for “works in areas within [Turkey’s] continental shelf”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile. Progress in the Cyprus talks is more important than ever”.
UN scheduled informal meeting after almost four-year hiatus while proposal to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues gained traction. UN 24 Feb announced five-plus-one talks – which includes UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to be held 27-29 April “to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution”; talks will be held for first time since negotiations collapsed in 2017. Ahead of announcement, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials throughout Feb continued to emphasise preference for solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greek and Greek Cypriot sides continued to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 2 Feb visited “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and, after meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, declared “if in Cyprus we manage to find a way to share revenues, then we will have solved 50% of the eastern Mediterranean issue”; proposal followed Jan letter from Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades to UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres that reportedly proposed escrow account to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders expressed willingness to convene for UN-led talks in coming months. UN special envoy on Cyprus dispute Jane Holl Lute continued groundwork to prepare for relaunching talks. Lute 11 Jan met separately Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades; following meeting, Republic of Cyprus announced UN Sec-Gen Guterres was exploring option of organising five-party conference – which would include leaders of two Cypriot communities, as well as three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to assess current state of affairs and prospects for relaunching talks; Tatar said that five-party meeting in Feb or March 2021 was possible and reiterated that he would “pursue an agreement on the basis of sovereign equality within a two-state solution framework”; Tatar 26 Jan said: “We deserve our own state to be recognized”. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 22 Jan said talks will be held in New York in next two months with EU as observer. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations in disputed waters around island remained at low ebb after Turkey 13 Jan withdrew its survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (see Eastern Mediterranean).
Prospects for relaunching UN talks remained dim amid gap between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on one hand and Greece and Greek Cypriots on the other. UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Jane Holl Lute throughout month met relevant stakeholders to lay foundations for relaunching UN-sponsored talks. Lute 1 Dec met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who spoke in favour of restarting talks but stressed that federal solution – on which talks in past were based – had not led to any result and that “it [was] time for a solution to be based on sovereign equality; where there are two states co-existing side by side”. Following 16 Dec meeting with Lute in Ankara, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu echoed sentiment, tweeting that “federation project is no longer sustainable. In line with realities on island, Turkish side promotes two-state settlement based on equal sovereignty”. In contrast, following meetings with Lute, Greek Cypriot officials 1 Dec and Greek officials 2 Dec reiterated position that talks should resume where they left off in previous round. In “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, PM Ersan Saner 9 Dec formed new govt following fall of previous one in Oct.
UN convened preliminary talks between Cypriot leaders while Turkish drilling activity continued to fuel tensions. Following Oct victory of two-state solution advocate Ersin Tatar in “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) elections, head of UN mission in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar 3 Nov organised preliminary meeting between Tatar and Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades; both sides “expressed their determination to positively respond to the UN Secretary-General’s commitment to explore the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-UN meeting”; five-member format includes Greece, Turkey, UK and both Cypriot communities. During visit to “TRNC” celebrating 37th anniversary of declaration of independence, Turkish President Erdoğan 15 Nov said that “a two-state solution must be discussed and negotiated on the basis of sovereign equality”, as opposed to federal solution; Erdoğan also visited Varosha/Maraş town following partial reopening of its beachfront in Oct, prompting Republic of Cyprus presidency same day to say move could “torpedo the prospects for the creation of the appropriate climate” for UN talks to resume. Amid ongoing tensions related to hydrocarbon exploration in region (see Eastern Mediterranean), Turkey continued survey activity off south-western coast of Cyprus; Ankara 3 Nov extended exploration activities of Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa ship until 16 Feb 2021 and 13 Nov announced drillship Yavuz would resume its operations in contested waters around Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriots elected new “presidential” leader Ersin Tatar. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) govt 6 Oct collapsed after coalition partner People’s Party withdrew in protest of 8 Oct govt decision to partially reopen beachfront strip in Maraş/Varosha, town that has remained closed to visitors after Turkish military seized it in 1974; President Erdoğan 14 Oct described move as “historical milestone for Cyprus”; Greek PM Mitsotakis 7 October called it “a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution” while Republic of Cyprus presidency 8 Oct condemned opening. In second round of TRNC “presidential” election, Ersin Tatar 19 Oct defeated Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı; election of Tatar could further complicate ongoing UN efforts to relaunch reunification talks given Tatar favours “two-state solution” over bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. UN 27 Oct said Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders will meet in UN mission in island’s buffer zone on 3 Nov.
UN announced intention to reignite stalled reunification talks, while Turkey and Greece expressed willingness to defuse persistent tensions in Eastern Mediterranean. UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 16 Sept announced intention to restart reunification talks in Cyprus and convene meeting of relevant parties following 11 Oct presidential election in “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” (TRNC); Republic of Cyprus officials welcomed proposal but stated Turkey must first cease exploration activities in its exclusive economic zone, while “TRNC” “PM” Ersin Tarar welcomed move and called for solutions other than federation; Turkish FM 15 Sept expressed opposition to federative solution and said options such as a “loose federation” or “confederation” should be discussed. U.S. 1 Sept lifted for one year 33-year-old arms embargo to allow sale of “non-lethal military goods” to Republic of Cyprus; Turkish MFA same day condemned move as having “negative effects on the efforts to reach a settlement on the Cyprus issue”. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 12 Sept visited Republic of Cyprus, expressed “deep concerns” over Turkish actions in region while reaffirming U.S. support for “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation”. Previously, Russian FM Lavrov 7-8 Sept visited Republic of Cyprus, expressed willingness to “assist with establishing a pragmatic dialogue” between Republic of Cyprus and Turkey; Turkish FM 14 Sept responded that if Russia wished to mediate, counterpart would be “TRNC”, not Turkey. Amid ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece in eastern Mediterranean, Ankara 12 Sept withdrew its drillship Oruç Reis from contested waters and returned it to Turkish port Antalya; Greek PM Mitsotakis 13 Sept welcomed “positive first step” toward de-escalation. Turkish President Erdoğan 18 Sept said he was eager to give “a chance to diplomacy and display a positive approach”. Both sides continued to carry out military exercises in contested waters throughout month. Meanwhile, efforts to defuse tensions continued apace: as of 20 Sept, NATO had convened four rounds of military-to-military technical de-confliction talks, while Germany continued to facilitate preparations for bilateral “exploratory talks” between sides; Athens and Ankara mid-Sept both confirmed readiness to begin exploratory dialogue soon.
Tensions rose in Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey throughout month continued drilling activities with three vessels in disputed maritime areas in Eastern Mediterranean: Cypriot FM 11 Aug criticised presence of Turkish drilling ship in Blocks 2 and 3, stating “once again Turkey chooses the route of unilateral illegal actions”; Turkish exploration vessel Oruç Reis 10 Aug resumed activities in waters south of Kastellorizo island in the area between Greek, Cypriot and Egyptian-claimed waters, same day prompting Greece to hold national security council meeting and state “most of the fleet is ready to be deployed whenever necessary”; Turkish President Erdoğan 13 Aug pledged retaliation if Greece interfered with Oruç Reis activities. Previously, Greek PM Mitsotakis 6 Aug and Erdoğan 10 Aug respectively voiced openness to begin talks to solve issues. Greek frigate Limnos and Turkish vessel Kemalreis reportedly collided 12 Aug. Turkey 15 Aug issued new advisory for drilling activities in maritime area southwest of Cyprus; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell same day said move “regrettably fuels further tensions and insecurity”. EU foreign affairs council 14 Aug reaffirmed support for Republic of Cyprus and Greece; Borrell 28 Aug said adoption of sanctions against individuals based on Republic of Cyprus recommendations will be sped up and “list of further restrictive measures” could be discussed next month. Meanwhile, France and Republic of Cyprus 1 Aug began implementation of 2017 defence cooperation agreement. Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy 26 Aug launched joint military exercises south of Cyprus; United Arab Emirates same day deployed fighter jets to Greece to take part in joint military exercises. Turkish military 28 Aug reportedly intercepted six Greek F-16 fighter jets that had taken off from Greek island of Crete and headed towards Cyprus, further raising fears of escalation. Turkish Navy 27 Aug announced military drills off the coast of Turkish city Iskenderun until 1-2 Sept and on 29 Aug off the coast of Turkish town Anamur until 11 Sept.
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