UN chief says 'determined' for success in Cyprus talks

Istanbul (AFP) - UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Friday he was "determined" to do his best to facilitate a deal to reunify the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, declaring himself neither optimistic nor pessimistic of success.

Guterres met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Istanbul for talks aimed at pushing for progress in reaching a Cyprus settlement, ahead of a whirlwind tour of five Arab countries.

Asked about chances of success in solving the Cyprus problem, Guterres said: "I am not optimistic, I am not pessimistic. I am just determined," referring to a popular quote attributed to French economist Jean Monnet, a pioneer of the European Union.

He added that the United Nations is not playing a leading role.

"We are in a supporting role that I am determined to do my best to help facilitate the conditions for a success," Guterres told a joint news conference with Yildirim.

Early this month Cypriot leaders asked the United Nations to prepare a new international conference on security arrangements for a reunified island to take place in March, with the participation of the guarantor powers.

xxGreece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain are the guarantor powers on the island under a 1960 deal that gave them the right to intervene to defend the island's sovereign integrity.

The three governments and the Cypriot leaders held a first conference in Geneva on January 12, followed by technical talks in the nearby Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

The Turkish Cypriots declared a breakaway state in 1983 but it is recognised only by Ankara.

- 'Breakthrough'-

Guterres said Friday the date for the next conference was not fixed and hoped the efforts of the guarantor powers would allow for a "breakthrough" in the near future.

"The United Nations will be entirely at disposal of the two Cypriot communities and of the guarantor powers to support in the search for a solution that is acceptable for all," he added.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci have been holding direct talks for nearly two years on reunifying the island.

At stake are thorny issues like its future internal borders, as well as the property rights of the tens of thousands of Cypriots who have been displaced.

For his part, Yildirim said equal and fair representation of the two sides on the island in a new federation was a "must", adding that security and guarantees were "indispensible" for Ankara.

Turkey insists that some 40,000 Turkish troops deployed on the Turkish Cypriot side must stay, which is an obstacle to any solution.

Guterres is due to meet Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, before travelling to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Egypt.

The talks will be his first round of high-level diplomacy on Syria and on other Middle East conflicts since Guterres took over the UN helm at the start of the year.

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who was UN refugee chief for a decade, will then attend a G20 ministerial meeting in Bonn and the Munich security conference later this month.

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