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Cyprus standoff: Erdogan irks EU by insisting on two-state division of island

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar attend a ceremony in northern Nicosia, Cyprus November 15, 2020. (Photo via Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for an equal “two-state” solution in Cyprus and warned against what he described as “diplomacy games” over Turkey’s rights to offshore resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In a visit to the Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern territories on Sunday, Erdogan said he favored a permanent "two-state" division of the island.

Cyprus is divided into Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern and Greek Cypriot-controlled southern territories since a brief war in 1974, which saw Turkey intervene militarily in response to a military coup backed by Athens to annex Cyprus to Greece.

Greek Cypriots run the island’s internationally recognized government, while Turkish Cypriots have a breakaway state in the north and say offshore resources belong to them too.

"There must be talks for a solution on the basis of two separate states," said the Turkish leader.

Erdogan said that Ankara’s “priority is to ensure a fair, lasting and sustainable solution” in Cyprus that ensures Turkish Cypriots have security and legal rights.

“A two-state solution must be negotiated on the basis of sovereign equality,” he added.

The Turkish leader was visiting Northern Cyprus after Ersin Tatar, who also supports a two-state solution, won last month’s presidential election.

He backed Erdogan’s calls for a two-state solution and offshore rights.

Tatar’s predecessor had backed reunification of the island.

Cyprus slams Erdogan visit as provocative

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades condemned Erdogan’s visit as “provocative and illegal,” accusing Ankara of showing “no respect for international law, European principles and values, and its obligations towards the EU.”

He said Erdogan's visit served to "torpedo" UN-led efforts to work toward resolving "the Cyprus problem" in talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Athens, Ankara and former colonial power London.

Erdogan, however, said during the visit that "the only victims in the Cyprus issue are the Turkish Cypriots, whose rights and existence have been ignored for years.”

Greek Cypriots gathered at a checkpoint along the UN-patrolled Green Line in the south in a show of their anger at the Turkish leader's visit.

Erdogan remarks cause tension: EU

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also reacted to Erdogan’s visit.

"The EU’s message is very clear: there is no alternative to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem other than on the basis of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions," Borrell said in a statement.

He said that Erdogan’s remarks contradict “the UN principles for a settlement of the Cyprus question.”

“They will cause greater distrust and tension in the region and should be urgently reversed,” Borrell added.

The United Nations has in the past made inconclusive attempts towards reunifying the island as a bi-zonal bi-communal federal -- a solution that also has the backing of the European Union.

The latest UN-backed peace negotiations failed in 2017 and there has been no progress in talks ever since.

Controversial visit to ghost town

Erdogan also paid a visit to Varosha, which used to be a luxury resort in the past but has been shut down and closed off for years.

Last month, Turkey partially reopened the seafront resort after almost five decades, in a move that drew an angry rebuke from the Greek Cyprus.  

Prior to his visit, Erdogan had talked of possible plans for a "picnic" at Varosha, but he only arrived in the place after dark.

During the visit, he mentioned plans to redevelop Varosha.

"This place has been closed for years, but it is time to start initiatives," he said, adding "an equitable sharing of the island's resources has never been granted to the Turkish Cypriots."

Erdogan also said that Greek Cypriots would be compensated for the properties they had lost in the ghost town. 

Energy dispute

Turkey and Greece, both of them NATO members, have been at loggerheads over oil and gas exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus accuses Turkey of breaching its sovereignty by drilling in the waters.

During the visit, Erdogan also referred to Ankara’s dispute with EU members, Greece and Cyprus and with other neighbors over territorial waters.

“Neither we nor Northern Cyprus can tolerate diplomacy games (in the region) anymore,” he said.

Erdogan reiterated that Turkey "will continue seismic research and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean until a fair agreement can be reached".

The EU has threatened Ankara with sanctions in case of further "illegal" drilling and energy exploration in the sea.

In response to the sanctions threat, Erdogan said formerly that Brussels “is doing the most damage to itself by becoming captive to Greece and Greek Cypriots.”

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