NICOSIA, Cyprus – We've been here before. Whether it was Geneva, Switzerland, Troutbeck in New York, or Greentree, Pennsylvania, the leaders of Cyprus' rival Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities have in the past locked horns in plush foreign resorts to thrash out a deal that would end this tiny, east Mediterranean island's ethnic division. And they have failed.
But maybe — just maybe — this time, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, may boldly go in five days of talks where their predecessors have not gone before.
The idea is to get the leaders focused in a secluded locale, insulated from pressure or other distractions from back home. Officials insist these talks in the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin won't be the end of the road. But if all goes well, this could be the precursor to one last summit to sort out the final details.
DIVISION AND 42 YEARS OF (FAILED) TALKS
A Turkish invasion in the summer of 1974, a few days after a coup aimed at union with Greece, sliced the island along ethnic lines: a breakaway, Turkish-speaking north and a Greek-speaking south that retained international recognition as the Republic of Cyprus. The minority Turkish Cypriots declared independence almost a decade later, but won recognition only from Turkey. Turkey still maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Numerous rounds of United Nations-brokered talks aimed at reunifying the island of roughly 1.1 million people as a federation have gone nowhere. The closest the two sides got to a deal was in 2004 when the Annan plan — named after then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan — was put to a vote to both communities. Two-thirds of Turkish Cypriots approved, but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a landslide. It didn't help, as U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide said recently, that the Annan plan was written by U.N. staff and presented to Cypriots for a vote.
The U.N. and others actively supporting a peace deal have since resolved that any accord must be negotiated by Cypriots.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
What's the big deal with reunifying this tiny island where relative calm has reigned for 42 years? For starters, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said last week that a peace deal would be a "game changer" for the European Union and a conflict-wracked region. If Greek Cypriot Orthodox Christians and Turkish Cypriot Sunni Muslims could run a country together it would be a pretty positive signal. Second, it would unlock cooperation between not-so-friendly neighbors on pumping out huge gas deposits from beneath the eastern Mediterranean seabed.
WHAT DO THE TWO SIDES WANT?
Turkish Cypriots see their future hinging on being the masters of their own domain, having an administrative zone of their own to run without being dominated by the majority Greek Cypriots — or Turkey for that matter. Greek Cypriots want a government that works and for as many of their people who lost homes and property during the war reclaiming to be able to reclaim their property or be properly compensated. They also want to make sure that Turkey no longer has any troops on the island. Turkish Cypriots see Turkey's military might as their sole protection. Greek Cypriots argue that no EU country in this day and age needs third-country security guarantees, especially from a country they see as a threat. Turkey's increasingly authoritarian ways and aggressive rhetoric does little to inspire confidence among Greek Cypriots.
PREPARING FOR THE ENDGAME
Anastasiades and Akinci have said repeatedly that if all goes well, a deal by year's end is possible. Eide has said Mont Pelerin wasn't designed as the final push. If things work out, it would pave the way for a multiparty meeting also bringing in Turkey, Britain and Greece to sort out the security quandary. But officials warn that if there's failure this time, things in Cyprus won't remain static. Turkey has already hinted that it would move to further absorb the north and make it some kind of offshore province.