What is the aim of the talks?
The purpose of the Geneva talks is to end the partition of the island between the predominantly Turkish north and Greek south, so that the whole island has a unified – if federated – political structure and can be recognised by the European Union. At present only the south is recognised by the EU, and UN troops oversee a buffer zone across the island. Any agreement would have to be sanctioned by the UN and put to a referendum on both sides of the island, probably in the late spring.
What is the background?
The island has suffered sporadic intercommunal violence since independence from the UK in 1960. Turkey sent in troops in 1974 to protect Turkish communities after a coup organised by the Greek military aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Nine years later, Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state in the north, which is recognised only by Ankara.
Many on the island fled their homes during the violence that culminated in the Turkish invasion, and have remained displaced to this day. The impasse has been one block to Turkish membership of the EU.
Who is attending?
The precise list is, even at this late stage, unclear and dependent on how well the talks are going. But the leader of the Greek Cypriot community, President Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, are already in Geneva along with the UN’s special adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide. Leaders of other Cypriot political parties are also in attendance.
The talks are due to develop into a multilateral format on 12 January attended by Cpyrus’s three “guarantor powers”: Greece, Turkey and the UK. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is due to attend, as is the president of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is not expected to come.
What is being discussed?
Formally the talks cover property, governance – including a rotating presidency – the economy, territory and security guarantees. One issue blends into another, and neither side is likely to make a final compromise until they see the overall shape of the package.
It has always been agreed that some of the territory controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal. The debate over how much land should be handed over and its location has hampered previous talks.
The security issue focuses on the extent, size and terms of a continued Turkish army presence on the island. Akıncı also insists on a rotating presidency with a Turkish Cypriot elected every two years, a proposal unpopular among Greek Cypriots.
Britain has offered to give up half the territory of its sovereign bases as part of any deal.
Have we been here before?
Close to innumerable times. No UN secretary general has left the Cyprus problem untouched, but the effort that came closest to a solution was overseen by Kofi Annan in 2004. His solution was accepted by the Turks but heavily rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum. Efforts are being made to learn from the 2004 errors, including keeping as many island politicians engaged as possible.
How likely is success?
One observer has said the dispute never ends due to “the absence of a mutually harming status quo”, meaning neither side is equally motivated to take a risk. But the island’s two leaders are very keen to strike a deal, and the UN has pulled out all the stops.
Erdoğan’s unpredictability is a factor, and his authoritarianism has made some Greeks uneasy about the island’s security.
Efforts in the run-up to the Geneva summit did not make as much progress as hoped, and perhaps the best that can be expected is an outline political deal with more meetings to follow.
The test will be whether both sides still have faith in the process at the week’s close, or whether they feel they have reached a dead end.
(Adapted from the Guardian)