World Bulletin / News Desk
Both sides of the island of Cyprus now have "the best chance" for a unification agreement, even though the dispute over gas exploration and an upcoming election on the Greek side have hampered the negotiations, UN special envoy Espen Barth Eide said.
"These are very crucial times for Cyprus itself, and also all the interested countries like Turkey and Greece," Eide told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview at the UN headquarters in New York City.
"A lot of people on both sides of the island and elsewhere are saying that this might be the last chance," the special envoy said. "I prefer to focus on this being the best chance because I do not know the future, but I think it would be a pity not to use this opportunity now."
UN-brokered Cyprus peace talks resumed on April 11 after a hiatus of nearly two months.
They had been derailed after the Greek Cypriot administration wanted to legislate school commemorations for a 1950 referendum on the union with Greece.
With that stumbling block removed last month, two main issues strike Eide as potential bottlenecks.
"I am concerned about the danger of increasingly seeing the process being subdued to preparation for an electoral campaign for presidency in the Greek Cypriot side," the envoy said.
The presidential vote is slated for February next year, and although the campaign has not started, whatever decision the two sides take on unification will assuredly impact the race.
Meanwhile, Eide said economic considerations were equally important for a win-win outcome at the negotiating table, amid an ongoing tussle over how to exploit the island's energy resources.
"I think energy is one of the best arguments for a solution, because if Cyprus came together and found a political solution, they could jointly explore their gas research but also jointly cooperate with all neighbors," Eide said.
"Without a settlement, that is much more difficult," he said.
While recognizing the progress that has been made, Eide nevertheless warned of a "hard landing" as a worst-case scenario, where the talks could "simply collapse".
As to how to navigate the negotiation process, Eide said the effort needs to remain "leader-led".
"They have to be owned by the Cypriots, not by the UN," he said.
Last month, Eide found himself at the receiving end of biting criticism from the Greek Cypriot administration, which sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General reportedly accusing Eide of lobbying for the Turkish Cypriot side.
UN spokesman Stephan Dujarric responded by saying that Eide continues to enjoy "the full confidence" of Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when a Greek coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turkish population and Ankara intervened to protect them.
Before the two-month break, the two sides had agreed on most of the issues in the reunification deal but the sticking points, including a security and guarantees system, remain unresolved.
Turkey insists 30,000 Turkish troops must remain on the island as part of Ankara’s role as a guarantor power.
Once a final agreement is reached, it would be put to both communities in a referendum. A peace deal was approved by Turkish Cypriots in 2004 but rejected by Greek Cypriot voters.