By Michele Kambas
Negotiations to settle Cyprus’ division are starting to show some progress, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Thursday, an unusually upbeat assessment on prospects of ending one of Europe’s most enduring conflicts.
Anastasiades told Reuters in an interview that some “convergences” had started to appear in negotiations on specific topics under discussion.
“A degree of progress is being achieved. If we continue at this rate I believe that soon we can start to speak of significant progress,” he said.
Anastasiades said the victory of Mustafa Akinci, a moderate left winger, in Turkish Cypriot elections in April appeared to be a turning point. “Without doubt the climate has substantially improved because finally there is a dialogue,” he said.
“I think there is mutual understanding of the concerns of the sides, an awareness of the pitfalls ahead, and a decisiveness to deal with them so that, if there is the goodwill that there is today, to get to a solution.”
“We are on the same track,” Anastasiades added, referring to Akinci.
The frozen conflict has been a permanent fixture on UN Security Council agendas for at least half a century, and Cyprus hosts one of the world’s oldest peacekeeping forces, monitoring a 180-kilometre ceasefire line slicing an east-west line through the island.
LINGERING GREEK-TURKISH TENSION
Cyprus’ partition is a continuing source of tension between Greece and Turkey and an obstacle to Turkey’s decades-old aspirations of joining the European Union.
Turkey, which bankrolls northern Cyprus and has a sizeable military presence in the territory, has an “unquestionable role” and input in settlement talks, Anastasiades said.
“I would like to believe that Turkey understands that the time has come, taking into account its own interests and its broader interests, to be rid of the headache called (the) Cyprus problem,” he said.
Mediators have sought unsuccessfully for years to end a deadlock and reunite the island as a two-zone federated state.
Talks typically flounder in the minutiae of governance, redrawing territorial boundaries, the claims of thousands of people kicked out of their homes in past conflict and how to extricate Cyprus from Turkey’s heavy sphere of influence.
A major initiative collapsed in 2004 when a United Nations reunification blueprint was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum.
Anastasiades, who backed the 2004 initiative, said it was important that there were no winners or losers from the process.
Present negotiations would be assisted by an EU technocrat to ensure that any arrangements would be in conformity with EU rules and regulations, the Cypriot leader said.
Anastasiades declined to specify in what particular areas convergences had started emerging. At present, negotiators appointed by the two sides are looking at governance and property issues and at potential territorial adjustments in a future federated state.
“Some progress has been observed on the chapters that are being discussed,” he said. The sides would continue to pursue ‘low level’ confidence-building measures, but in a manner which would not detract from the key issue of finding a deal.