By Gilbert Reilhac
NICOSIA, Dec 6 – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan may be more willing to back a deal to reunite the divided island of Cyprus following Turkey’s failed army coup in July, the Cypriot foreign minister said on Tuesday.
The latest round of U.N.-brokered talks, held in Switzerland in November, failed to conclude an agreement to bring the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides under one umbrella and the two sides are set to meet again in January.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said July’s failed military coup, which led to the arrests and sackings of many army officials, could free Erdogan to accept a withdrawal of Turkish forces stationed in northern Cyprus since 1974.
Turkey’s once-mighty military has long taken a hawkish stance on the Cyprus issue.
“We are in the process of resolving all the internal issues in this story, but the issue that will lead to a solution or failure is the security issue,” said Kasoulides, whose country has made a Turkish army withdrawal a precondition.
“For the (Turkish) army, the problem was solved in 1974, but my analysis is that, since the failed coup d’etat, the army obstacle no longer exists,” he told reporters in Nicosia.
Cyprus was split on ethnic lines after a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a brief Greek-inspired coup. A U.N.-patrolled ceasefire line still runs across the island from east to west and thousands of Turkish troops are stationed in the north.
The internationally recognised Cypriot government, a member of the European Union, presides over about 800,000 Greek Cypriots in the south of the island, while the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the north, governing some 220,000 Turkish Cypriots, is recognised only by Ankara.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will reconvene with the United Nations on Jan. 9 in Geneva before being joined three days later by Greece, Britain and Turkey, which guarantee the constitutional settlement on the island.
Other powers, including members of the U.N. Security Council who would rubberstamp any deal, could also attend those talks during which new proposals will be made, Kasoulides said.
With ties between the EU and Turkey now very strained and little prospect of Turkey’s accession to the bloc, Kasoulides added, Erdogan could seek a Cyprus deal to secure Ankara’s wider interests in the east Mediterranean.
“Turkey’s motivation today is not accession to the European Union. It’s more Syria, (the northern Iraqi city of) Mosul and taking advantage of the gas fields that could transit from its territory to Europe,” he said.