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Our View: Washington’s new interest in Cyprus more than a passing fad

PRESIDENT Anastasiades, on his arrival in New York on Sunday met Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom he discussed Cyprus talks. It is not often the Cyprus president, who makes an annual pilgrimage to New York every September for the UN General Assembly, is granted an audience with the US Secretary of State.

Like Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to the island earlier in the year, this was another practical illustration of the increased US interest in Cyprus, which American officials have been repeatedly referring to as a ‘strategic partner’. What the US has in mind and what form this strategic partnership would take, nobody knows, but it is most probably related to the island’s position next to one of the most unstable regions in the world.

However, it appears, for the Americans, this strategic partnership cannot materialise without a settlement of the Cyprus problem, which is why there has been a rekindling of US interest in the peace talks. In the decade that followed the referendum the US, understandably, showed complete indifference to the peace process but since the start of this year, the attitude has changed. It was active US involvement that broke the deadlock over the joint declaration and paved the way for the start of talks.

On Sunday, at his meeting with Anasatsiades, Kerry talked up the prospects of the talks. A senior State Department spokesman, quoted by the Cyprus News Agency, said “we are cautiously optimistic that there is new life in the process and we wish to be supportive.” With the appointment of the new special advisor on the UN Secretary-General, Espen Barthe Eide, the official said, “we are now beginning to see the start of real talks.”

The official also said that Kerry told Anastasiades that he intended “to become personally involved in the procedure and help as much as he could for progress to be achieved.” Kerry was prepared to visit Cyprus if the two sides believed that such a visit would be helpful, the State Department officials added.

The US government means business. This interest in the Cyprus talks is not theoretical or a passing fad but an indication of the importance the US places in a settlement, which it considers an essential part for its broader strategic plans for the region. The State Department official said Kerry had also discussed Cyprus with the Turkish government during his visit to Ankara. There is little doubt that the Americans will be pushing for a result to the talks.

Whether we will see this as an opportunity that must be seized, or an attempt to ‘close’ the Cyprus problem, that must be resisted, remains to be seen.

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