Hopes high for revival of Cyprus peace talks

Hopes high for revival of Cyprus peace talks

ANKARA - Agence France-Presse
Hopes high for revival of Cyprus peace talks

Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Greek Cyprus, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus are set to restart soon as diplomats eye a settlement to an issue that has long poisoned Turkey's attempts to become a European Union member.

The fate of the long-divided Mediterranean island remains one of the major stumbling blocks in Turkish-EU negotiations. Turkey began accession talks in 2005 but has so far only agreed with the EU on one of the 35 negotiating chapters needed to gain entry, mainly due to the Cyprus row, as well as stiff opposition from some member states.

Brussels froze negotiations in 2006 on eight of the chapters following Ankara's failure to open its ports to shipping from member Greek Cyprus. "[Greek] Cyprus remains the main obstacle on the road toward Turkey's integration. Several chapters are blocked because of this issue," a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We are hopeful that the process can start all over again by the end of October," the diplomat added, despite thorny issues that need to be addressed like the sharing of the island's energy wealth.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops intervened in the northern third of the island.

A UN peace plan deemed as the best shot to reunify the island was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a 2004 referendum. But soon after their no vote, the Greek Cypriots were rewarded with EU membership while the Turkish Cypriots who overwhelmingly voted for the blueprint were left out in the cold. "The new [Greek] Cyprus president Anastasiades has expressed publicly his willingness to renew the negotiation process. Both Greece and Turkey look ready to move forward. We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic, at least more optimistic than two years ago," the European diplomat said. The president of Greek Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, called Friday for a "new impetus" in talks with the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus after meeting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens. "We have to be well prepared for a new round of talks ... We are in total agreement (with Athens) that a new impetus is needed in the (upcoming) negotiations," he said.

Talks halted

UN-brokered negotiations were suspended in mid-2012, as Turkish Cypriots walked off protesting against the south taking the EU's rotating presidency.

The Greek Cypriots have since pushed back any resumption of talks with the north to deal with economic woes and avert bankruptcy. But now the two sides are close to getting back to the negotiating table.

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas said Greek Cyprus was willing to resume talks.

"The president of [Greek] Cyprus is willing to move forward with the negotiation process. We now have to see whether or not the other side is ready to do the same," he told AFP.

Turkey believes there's no time to lose and is pushing for a peace plan by March.

In a bid to help defuse the psychological barrier, it has proposed representatives from Turkish and Greek Cyprus visit Athens and Ankara in the coming days.

The island's rival leaders would then hold direct talks in November.

"We want talks to resume as soon as possible and to be concluded swiftly under a timetable," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gümrükçü told AFP. "We are not rediscovering the wheel. The Cyprus problem remains unresolved for 50 years and the issues to be addressed as well as settlement parameters are clear-cut," he said.

This time Ankara sees a "window of opportunity" to end the island's division.

"We are not naively optimistic, but we receive positive signals from the other side. There's an important window of opportunity for a settlement," said Gümrükçü. "If we can utilize this chance, many issues considered risky today such as energy resources will create an opportunity for peace and cooperation in the entire eastern Mediterranean."