Top diplomats from Turkey, Greece and Britain temporarily suspended talks aimed at helping unify long-divided Cyprus after failing to narrow differences Thursday on security guarantees for its ethnic Greek and Turkish communities.
Envoys to the U.N.-hosted talks in Geneva said foreign ministers from Cyprus' three "guarantors" now will step back from the process and let their deputies thrash out the options starting next Wednesday, with hopes of returning to the table if progress is made.
"Today, as the foreign ministers, we frankly shared our position on different issues — particularly on security and guarantee issues," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavotoglu told reporters late Thursday. "At the end, we found out that we have totally different positions."
"Today's meeting was very useful, (I'm) not disappointed," Cavusoglu added, saying that ideas were floated even if differences were not reduced.
The talks on post-reunification security featuring the foreign ministers came following three days of discussions between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on internal issues. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sought to play down expectations, saying there was no "quick fix" for decades of division in Cyprus.
Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 following a coup aimed at making Cyprus part of Greece. Turkish Cypriots, the minority, see Turkey's military might as their sole insurance against any Greek Cypriot hostility, and want those troops to remain in a final accord.
"The participants recognized that this is the time to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion," a U.N. statement said, alluding to years of failed efforts for a deal. "This is a historic opportunity that should not be missed."
The Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot leader are to keep discussing differences on issues such as returning homes and property to owners who were displaced when the island was cleaved along ethnic lines more than four decades ago.
Guterres said work will continue toward "a solid and a sustainable solution for Cyprus" that "will be a symbol of hope in a world where so many conflicts are emerging, where so many problems do not seem to come to an end."
"You cannot expect miracles and immediate solutions," he said.
Guterres said Anasastaides and Akinci made progress on issues like territory, property and relations with the European Union since they started meeting in Geneva on Monday.
The arrival of foreign ministers Boris Johnson of Britain, Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Turkey's Cavusoglu brought talks about security — a key issue for both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots — to the table for the first time in years of peacemaking efforts.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also participated in the talks.
Turkey's Cavusoglu said the future talks would succeed if all sides "are sincere about a solution. But if we go around in circles, and if there is maneuvering for short-term political interests, there will be no results."
Kotzias said earlier Thursday that the the main point of disagreement continues to be Turkey's insistence on keeping troops in Cyprus and the right to militarily intervene, which Greece opposes.
"We believe, and rightly so, that the guarantee system must be abolished," Kotzias told reporters.
He said Greece favors a plan to cobble together an international team of observers under U.N. Security Council auspices to oversee the implementation of a peace accord. Any deal should foresee the swift withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, he said.
Greek Cypriots see the Turkish troop presence as a threat and an instrument of Ankara's influence on the island. They insist that Turkey, which isn't an EU member, should neither keep troops on Cyprus, which is part of the 28-nation bloc, nor have the right to intervene militarily there.
Anasastaides floated the possibility an international police force for Cyprus, without specifying who might set it up or lead it, a diplomat who attended the session said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to provide details about the talks.
The ministers hoped to pave the way for their prime ministers to join, a possible signal that a wide-ranging accord could be on tap. Britain is a former colonial overseer in Cyprus, and today has two military bases on the island.
Any final accord would go before voters in both the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that's recognized only by Turkey and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the south. Guterres acknowledged that "referenda are not an easy challenge."
Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Suzan Frazer in Istanbul, Cinar Kiper in Ankara, Turkey, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.