Boris Johnson to join talks seeking reunification of Cyprus

Updated: 

Boris Johnson is joining international talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus after more than 40 years of division amid hopes of a high-level breakthrough.

The Foreign Secretary was in Switzerland on Tuesday evening to attend a dinner to start discussions before formal talks get under way at the Crans-Montana ski resort on Wednesday.

The United Nations has urged Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to make the most of the talks, with secretary general Antonio Guterres calling on them to "seize this opportunity" of a breakthrough peace accord.

Britain, as the formal colonial power, is acting as a "guarantor" alongside Greece and Turkey, and it is believed the Foreign Office is optimistic about a breakthrough despite years of failed diplomatic initiatives.

Mr Johnson will leave the talks early to return to the UK ahead of a Commons vote on a Labour amendment to the Queen's Speech, with his Conservative Party now heading up a minority government propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party.

The attendance of the Foreign Secretary, who will be joined at the summit by Europe Minister Sir Alan Duncan, is designed to demonstrate Britain's ongoing support and commitment to the reunification process.

Mr Johnson said: "This conference builds on months of hard work, commitment and progress shown by both sides.

"It's an exceptional opportunity for both communities to find a lasting solution for Cyprus, which will bring huge benefits to the whole island and the region.

"It will not be easy, but with political will, creativity and flexibility, I believe that a deal can be done.

"The UK is ready and willing to help in any way we can."

During the trip Mr Johnson is planning to hold meetings with Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci and the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey.

Both sides have rejected a UN document designed to structure talks, which are scheduled to last until July 7 with hopes of a high-level agreement by next week.

The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops staged an invasion in response to a coup by Greek Cypriots aimed at uniting with Greece.

UN peacekeepers continue to patrol the buffer zone between the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, recognised only by Turkey, and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.

The UK is one of the most significant contributors to the UN peacekeeping force, providing around 280 troops out of 888 uniformed personnel.

One of the key issues to be resolved in the talks is security, with more than 30,000 Turkish troops still in the north.

Any settlement is likely to involve a federal arrangement, with the two communities sharing power in a united Cyprus, and will have to be supported in separate referendums of the two communities.

A previous agreement in 2004 was rejected by Greek Cypriot voters.