UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he believes prospects for a comprehensive settlement that will reunify Cyprus "remain alive" and he will prepare the way for negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to resume.
Guterres said in a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Tuesday that both Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have said they are ready to resume talks.
Numerous rounds of negotiations over more than four decades have failed, and after the most recent talks collapsed in July 2017, Guterres encouraged a period of reflection. In early July, he asked senior U.N. official Jane Holl Lute to sound out all sides, and in late September he also met separately with Anastasiades and Akinci.
Guterres said the way ahead "must be well prepared, with a sense of urgency and focus to seize the willingness of the two sides to negotiate."
"Prior to resuming full-fledged negotiations, the sides should agree on terms of reference that would constitute the consensus starting point for a possible negotiated conclusion to the Cyprus issue," he said.
Cyprus was divided into a Turkish-speaking north and a Greek-speaking south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by Cypriots who supported uniting the island with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and still maintains around 35,000 troops there.
A U.N. peacekeeping force was established in 1964 to prevent fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. After the hostilities in 1974, the Security Council mandated the force to perform other duties, including supervising cease-fire lines and maintaining a buffer zone.
Guterres stressed in the report that "continued support for a horizon of endless process without result lies behind us, not before us."
"I believe that all Cypriots deserve a common future that one thing alone can bring: a lasting agreement achieved with a clear horizon," he added.
When negotiations ended in July 2017 many issues remained unresolved but the deal-breaker was a clash over what would happen to the more than 35,000 troops that Turkey has in the north.
Greek and Greek Cypriot officials said it was Turkey's "obsession" with keeping its troops in place and the right to militarily intervene post-reunification that sunk the talks. Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials said pulling all troops out and abolishing intervention rights was out of the question.
"We came very close," Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said at the time.
Guterres said he believes deeply "in the vitality, energy and strength of the island's population," especially its women and youth, and he urged their greater engagement to help build confidence in a solution.
He expressed hope that new discussions "can lead, once again, to the deployment of the full weight of my good offices in what may prove a lasting resolution of the Cyprus issue."