Divided Cyprus’ rival leaders agree to restart stalled talks

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus were back on track Friday after the leaders of the ethnically split island ended a two-week stalemate by agreeing to meet next month in Geneva for a summit to tackle the most difficult issues in the way of a peace deal.

In a statement issued early Friday, the U.N. said Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci agreed to meet in the Swiss city over four days starting Jan. 9 to hammer out an agreement on on key aspects of how much territory each side will control in an envisioned federation.

The final day of the summit will also bring together Greece, Turkey and Cyprus’ former colonial ruler, Britain, to discuss ensuring on-the-ground security after an accord is signed.

The U.N. said teams of negotiators from either side will step up meetings in Cyprus ahead of the Geneva summit to mark further progress on other issues that remain unresolved. The leaders will meet as necessary.

Word that the talks were back on came after Anastasiades and Akinci cleared the air over four hours of talks during a dinner hosted by U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide.

The positive news ended two weeks of finger-pointing over who was to blame for the impasse that threatened to scuttle 19 months of solid progress.

A 1974 Turkish invasion following a coup aimed at union with Greece split the island into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a breakaway, Turkish-speaking north. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

The U.N.-hosted dinner was the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting after talks in the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin broke down last month amid disagreement over how many displaced Greek Cypriots would be eligible to reclaim lost homes and property in redrawn federal zones. Anastasiades wanted as many as 90,000 people to be able to reclaim homes and property, while Akinci offered a maximum 65,000.

Anastasiades said after the dinner that there’s a good chance to wrap up most of the issues on which the two sides differ ahead of the Geneva meeting.

“I want to reiterate our determination and from what I’ve concluded the determination of the other side to finally create the kind of fertile ground that will lead us to a successful conclusion,” Anastasiades said.

Anastasiades will brief the public on the latest developments in a televised address later Friday, an official statement said.

Akinci said if a deal is struck next month, it will take an additional few weeks to hammer out the last remaining technical details with the aim of bringing a comprehensive accord to a vote in simultaneous referendums in both communities by mid-2017.

“Our region is plunged into bloodshed. This would be a good example for our region,” Akinci told reporters after briefing lawmakers.

According to a schedule for the talks, the two leaders will present respective maps on how much territory their federal zones should comprise on Jan. 11. An enlarged meeting on security that will include Greece, Turkey and Britain will take place the following day.

The Greek Cypriot side says federal boundaries should be redrawn in a way that would allow the majority of Greek Cypriots displaced by the invasion to reclaim homes and property. That would reduce the cost of a peace accord by limiting the amount of compensation that would be paid out to those who wouldn’t be able to get property back, and would help shore up support for a deal among Greek Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriots insist that territorial adjustments should keep the number of Turkish Cypriots who would be forced to relocate to the bare minimum.

Another key sticking point in talks is a Turkish Cypriot demand to cede Turkey the right to militarily intervene and to keep troops on the island under any deal. The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s troops as vital for their security, while Greek Cypriots consider them as a threat undermining the island’s sovereignty.

Military intervention rights were granted to Greece, Turkey and Britain under the island’s 1960 constitution. The Greek government opposes keeping these rights in place after a peace deal.

The decision to resume talks comes after remarks by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week in which he suggested that Greek Cypriots won’t be permitted to fulfill their goal of controlling the entire island. Anastasiades decried the remarks as unacceptable.