NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Against the backdrop of Turkey's referendum on expanding presidential powers, talks aimed at reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus restarted Tuesday with rival leaders hoping to claw back diminished trust and lost momentum after a two-month halt.
But the United Nations-mediated negotiations still face difficult challenges, with the island's Greek Cypriot president accusing the breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader of backpedaling on key issues at Turkey's prompting following months of solid progress.
The minority Turkish Cypriots, meanwhile, say Greek Cypriots pay lip service to their core demand of equal partnership in the running of an envisioned federation — especially on holding the federal presidency alternately.
It's still unclear if talks can result in a deal both sides can rally behind.
"I hope this new round of negotiations can finally bring us to the point where we could say that there's agreement," President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters after the meeting.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said the U.N. could help move the process forward by coming up with bridging proposals. He said there's enough time to reach a deal by July before exploratory drilling for gas off Cyprus' southern coast begins. Turkish Cypriots object to such drilling because they say it disregards their right to the island's natural resources.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island's north is recognized only by Turkey which keeps more than 35,000 troops there.
With talks delving deeper, bargaining has become more complicated. President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkish Cypriot conditions on how they'll be represented in decision-making bodies would "paralyze" the state. Moreover, he said Turkey's demand that its citizens be granted the freedom to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to Cyprus as part of any peace deal would mean "Cyprus' takeover through peaceful means."
Compounding the difficulties is Turkey's condition for its troops and military intervention rights to stay in place after reunification, something that Turkish Cypriots say ensures their security but Greek Cypriots strongly reject.
Meanwhile, acrimony over legislation making a brief reference to a 1950 referendum on union with Greece mandatory in Greek Cypriot schools has sharpened divisions among Greek Cypriots.
The legislation was reversed last week following Turkish Cypriot protests, but the move splintered Greek Cypriot opinion between those who saw it as necessary to get talks back on track and those who saw it as acquiescing to Turkey's will.
Anastasiades called the legislation kerfuffle a pretext for Akinci to halt talks ahead of Sunday's referendum on whether to concentrate more power in the hands of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sought to project toughness in order to woo the nationalist vote.