NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to throw into doubt a new bid to restart dormant Cyprus reunification talks, saying Sunday that a two-state deal rather than the long-established federal formula is the way forward.
Speaking at commemorations for the 37th anniversary of a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence on war-divided Cyprus, Erdogan said that a two-state solution must be negotiated given that there are “two separate peoples and states” on the island.
“A two-state solution must be discussed and negotiated on the bases of sovereign equality,” said Erdogan, who accused Greek Cypriots of sabotaging progress.
He also said Turkey’s hydrocarbons prospecting in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights would continue “until a fair settlement is reached.”
Erdogan affirmed repeated calls from his subordinates as well as the new, Ankara-backed leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Ersin Tatar, to pursue a two-state accord with rival Greek Cypriots.
That approach breaks with a 1977 agreement that an envisioned deal would reunify two separately administered zones under an overarching federal government. Despite agreeing on that basis, the two sides have failed to reach an overall peace deal despite numerous rounds of U.N.-brokered talks.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north where it maintains more than 35,000 troops.
The island’s internationally-recognized government seated in the island’s Greek Cypriot south accused Erdogan of dynamiting U.N.-led attempts for a return to peace talks.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that he would explore the possibility of resuming talks he called a halt to in July 2017 when negotiations between the two sides as well as Cyprus’ “guarantors” — Greece, Turkey and Britain — led to an impasse.
Guterres’ envoy Jane Holl Lute is due in Cyprus later this month to test the waters for a return to talks.
Despite strong winds and rain putting a damper on celebrations, Erdogan also visited a mile-long stretch of beachfront in the ghost city of Varosha that stirred up controversy on both sides of the divide when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities opened it last month.
Varosha’s Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled as Turkish troops advanced during the 1974 invasion. Since then, the area remained under Turkish military control, cordoned off and left to the ravages of time.
U.N. Security Council resolutions consider attempts to settle any part of Varosha — Maras in Turkish — by anyone other than its inhabitants as “inadmissible.” They also call for the area to be transferred to U.N. administration.
The Cypriot government said in a statement that Turkey’s actions demonstrate Ankara “does not respect at all international legality, European principles and values, and its obligations toward the European Union” while “showing contempt” for U.N. resolutions.
But Erdogan’s Varosha visit was perceived as a show of strength to serve notice that no one can dictate terms to the Turkish side in any peace negotiation.
Meanwhile, the beachfront’s opening angered many leftist Turkish Cypriots who saw it as a blow to peace efforts as well as an overt attempt to meddle in their own affairs.
Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets to protest Erdogan’s Varosha visit as well as what they say are Turkey’s attempts to subvert their secular way of life. The peace group Unite Cyprus Now said both Greek and Turkish Cypriots are united in their denunciation of the Turkish president’s “provocative” visit to Varosha.
Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Turkey contributed.