Cyprus president warns of potential deadlock in peace talks

By Menelaos Hadjicostis, Associated Press

The president of Cyprus on Tuesday warned of a possible impasse in talks to reunify the ethnically divided island after rebuking a United Nations envoy for speaking of a potential crisis over the country's search for offshore oil and gas.

Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, right, shakes hands with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias during their meeting in Athens, Monday May 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The president of Cyprus on Tuesday warned of a possible impasse in talks to reunify the ethnically divided island after rebuking a United Nations envoy for speaking of a potential crisis over the country's search for offshore oil and gas.

President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, said talks could become deadlocked over an insistence by Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriots to keep Turkish troops deployed on the island even after a peace deal.

"It's with regret that I face a possible impasse, a standstill that's not the result of a lack of will on our part, but unfortunately because of demands that serve neither Greek nor Turkish Cypriots," Anastasiades said during a youth event.

Turkey has maintained 35,000 troops in the country's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since mounting an invasion in 1974 in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Greek Cypriots see the troops as a threat and want them removed as part of any peace deal. Anastasiades has proposed the deployment of an international police force to oversee security.

"Why should we live under threat by someone in order to supposedly feel secure," he said.

The minority Turkish Cypriots, who see Turkish troops are their only security guarantee, have rejected his proposal.

Anastasiades' remark came after he dismissed recent remarks by U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide on Tuesday. It's the second time this month that the president, a Greek Cypriot, has criticized Eide and accused the envoy of bias.

Eide was quoted in Greek newspaper To Vima as expressing concern that growing tensions over the energy issue could derail the ongoing talks aiming at reunifying Cyprus as a federation.

Anastasiades said he already had let Eide know he didn't appreciate his comments.

"I regret that I'm being harsh about it, but I've made complaints directly that I consider such remarks unacceptable, especially if they're made in the form of a threat," he said.

Turkey and Cyprus' Greek Cypriot government are sharply divided over energy exploration. Turkey opposes what it calls a unilateral Greek Cypriot project that flouts the rights of the island's breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Turkey is also said to claim part of gas exploration areas, or blocks, off Cyprus' western and southern coast, as its own.

The Cyprus government says drilling is its sovereign right and that potential proceeds from any mineral wealth would be divvied up among all citizens once a peace deal is signed.

French energy company Total is scheduled to drill an exploratory well off Cyprus' southern coast in mid-July.

The peace talks have been at a standstill since Eide called off mediation efforts last week when Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci failed to find common ground on the format for a final summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

Anastasiades insists on prioritizing at the summit an agreement on withdrawing Turkish troops. Akinci maintains that all issues should be discussed in a give-and-take process.

The spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus, Aleem Siddique, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Eide has no immediate plans to return to Cyprus unless the leaders ask him to come.

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