UN-led talks in Geneva hoping to create a reunified Cyprus after decades of bitter division ended without a breakthrough on Thursday, leaving officials to reconvene later this month to readdress the issue of how any agreement could be militarily secured.
The two sides will meet again on 18 January to look again at the security question, before a fresh attempt to forge a complete political deal.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was confident the participants were determined to make a “last effort” to find a solution. There was no precise date set for the guarantors of the process – the Greek, Turkish and British foreign ministers – to meet again. Negotiators said much progress had been made on the shape of the deal, but more time was needed to agree how external actors could persuade islanders that any plan will be enforced.
The outcome of the four days of talks is at one level a disappointment since there had been hopes that the Greek and Turkish Cypriots might sign a final outcome agreement. But diplomats think the talks have not collapsed, and the scope for an agreement genuinely remains.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was upbeat, saying: ”I welcome the real progress made towards finding a solution to the Cyprus settlement over the last few days, in particular on the future security of a united Cyprus.”
He added: ”With continued commitment and political will, I believe a historical agreement is within reach.”
Britain is offering to almost halve the territorial size of its military bases. Separately, the UK has said it is up to the other parties to decide if they wish it to continue as a guarantor. It could end that role, but only if the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot populations agreed to a new arrangement. A range of possible alternative multinational guarantors are conceivable including the EU, the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Nato.
Greece is pressing for the 30,000 Turkish troops to leave the island over a fixed timetable and for Ankara to end its right to intervene. Turkey has so far refused to make that concession, but it is widely agreed the deal on security – probably the most difficult part of the talks – is dependent on how favourably the two communities view the agreement on the internal dossiers on governance, boundaries, compensation, the economy and relations with the EU.
Turkey is demanding that all Turkish Cypriots receive full rights to EU membership. Guterres stressed no one was looking for “miracles or a quick fix, but a solid and sustainable solution”.
“Our goal here is to get the necessary results and to do that we want to work seriously for the amount of time that is necessary,” he said. “We are facing so many situations of disaster, we badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017.”
Guterres said a deal was needed that satisfied both sides, pointing out any agreement would have to be put to the two communities in a referendum. He added: “Looking at what is happening in the world, referenda are not an easy challenge.”
The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, which was triggered by a coup organised by Greek and Greek Cypriot nationalists trying to unite the island with Greece.