Leaders of Turkish and Greek Cypriots meet in buffer zone
Leaders of Cyprus's estranged Greek and Turkish communities met on Thursday as a deadlock persisted in peace talks on the divided island.
The meeting was the first for newly elected Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, and Ersin Tatar, who was elected the president of the de facto state of Northern Cyprus in 2020.
They met on neutral ground in a United Nations-controlled buffer zone splitting the two sides in the divided capital Nicosia, at the home of Canadian diplomat Colin Stewart who heads the peacekeeping mission on the island.
"The present state of affairs cannot be the solution to the Cyprus problem, not for Greek Cypriots, or Turkish Cypriots," Christodoulides said after the two-hour meeting with Tatar.
Christodoulides, a former foreign minister in the outgoing center-right administration, won a closely fought election on 12 February and will be sworn in on 28 February.
While centrist and right-wing parties supporting him have typically followed a hard line in reunification talks and two of his backers reject the United Nations basis for the talks that aims to unite Cyprus under a loose federal umbrella, Christodoulides has repeatedly stated he backs the UN framework.
"I didn't hear anything I didn't expect from Mr. Tatar. I expressed my readiness - and acknowledging the differences in approach and disagreements on basic issues - to do whatever I can to break the deadlock," Christodoulides said.
Tatar told Turkish state media TRT after the meeting that Christodoulides expressed his condolences for the earthquake victims in Turkey, which include Turkish Cypriots, and that they shared their concerns regarding the risk of a possible earthquake striking the island in the near future. He pointed out that a cooperation between the Turkish and Greek sides for mutual preparedness would be a great message to the world.
As for a solution to the political conflict, Tatar said: "We are no longer engaged in any talks regarding a solution based on a federal structure. That is over, long exhausted. Our new policy is based on sovereignty. If there will be any solution in Cyprus, it shall be based on the sovereignty of two states."
He added that until such a solution is reached, they will continue to cooperate with the Greek Cypriots through means of joint "technical committees" on issues including economy, energy, water resources, health, crime fighting, cultural heritage.
The UN mission, UNFICYP, said the meeting was "open and constructive."
No new meeting was set. Christodoulides said he had suggested a social meeting with Tatar and their spouses.
Cyprus was split after the invasion of its northern parts by the Turkish military in 1974, following a brief Greek-inspired coup, with Greek Cypriots living in its south and Turkish Cypriots in an unrecognized breakaway north. The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2017.