By Elias Hazou
US Secretary of State John Kerry, on a snap visit to the island, said on Thursday a Cyprus solution was within reach.
In a statement after meeting both Cypriot leaders separately, Kerry said he had been closely following developments in Cyprus for decades and that the US has always been and is focused on Cyprus “at the highest levels”.
“It has been a priority for me and President Obama,” he noted.
“I am more convinced than ever that a settlement is within reach. This will not happen automatically, but it can be done.
“A united Cyprus can stand as a beacon for peace in a troubled region of the world,” he added.
Speaking of “tangible progress” in the Cyprus peace talks, Kerry went on to refer to the two leaders by their first names, saying “I am impressed with both Nicos and Mustafa.”
“Our focus must be on what we can change. Today I have witnessed that desire,” he said. “I am more convinced than ever that a settlement is within reach. It can be done.”
Kerry arrived in Cyprus on Thursday afternoon for meetings with the leaders of the two communities, and other officials.
Amid tight security, Kerry arrived at the foreign ministry around 5.20pm. He first held talks with Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides – the meeting went on for around 35 minutes – after which Kerry went to meet President Nicos Anastasiades. He was at the presidential palace at around 6pm.
The palace meeting was also attended by Kasoulides, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, Undersecretary to the President Constantinos Petridis, Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides and members of the American diplomatic corps, including Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland.
Anastasiades and Kerry discussed the Cyprus issue plus guarantees and security. The US position, like that of the Greek Cypriot side, is that there can be no military guarantees for a member state of the EU.
According to reports, the two agreed that a Cyprus settlement must feature “no ambiguities or gaps.”
According to public broadcaster CyBC, the economic aspect of a settlement was discussed in brief, with Kerry said to have a made a passing mention of studies being conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the cost of reunification.
Also on Thursday, the IMF said it would lend technical assistance on the economic aspects of post-settlement Cyprus.
Speaking in New York, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice was responding to a question as to the work being carried out by an IMF team in Cyprus.
The IMF would be providing “…technical assistance providing capacity building in our areas of strength – our areas of expertise; the macro-economic framework, the financial and fiscal affairs and statistics”.
Kerry then crossed to the north to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, after which he made his statement to the press at the Fulbright Center in Nicosia. He did not take questions.
Speaking to reporters after his 40-minute talk with Kerry, Akinci described it as “useful and comprehensive…a good meeting about the future of Cyprus.”
The Turkish Cypriot leader said US support to the peace process is important to achieving stability in the eastern Mediterranean. The issue of guarantees was not discussed, Akinci told reporters, adding that there is “a common perception” that this will be the last issue to be tackled in the negotiations.
The two did not discuss the economic aspect of a settlement, save for Kerry reiterating the US’s long-standing promise of financial assistance.
The US government’s recent decision approving the sale of defensive weapons to the Republic of Cyprus was also discussed, Akinci said, adding that in his view this was not tantamount to lifting the standing US embargo on arms sales.
Later in the evening Kerry attended a dinner hosted by Lisa Buttenheim, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Cyprus and Head of the UN Mission, at her residence within the old Nicosia airport.
Anastasiades, Akinci and the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus Espen Barth Eide were also present at the dinner.
On Friday Kerry flies on to Athens to discuss bilateral and regional issues.