With anxiety building over the re-start of negotiations to unify Cyprus, President Nicos Anastasiades said he believes that this time there is a chance that a UN-brokered peace process could end four decades of division on the island that’s been split since a 1974 unlawful invasion by Turkey, which still occupies the northern third of the country.
“We need guarded optimism… I don’t want to appear pessimistic, but there is hard work to be done,» he said.
Anastasiades was addressing a televised news conference to elaborate on a joint communique he and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Dervis Eroglu issued on Feb. 11 re-launching peace talks after a nearly two-year hiatus.
He said the joint communique does not aim to scrap the Cyprus Republic but instead see it transformed into a bi-zonal federation, fueling fears that Cyprus would essentially remain divided but that the Cypriots would share power with the Turkish side. Cypriot critics say the negotiations would lead to a two-state solution through the back door.
Anastasiades and Eroglu in the statement agreed that a settlement would be based on a “bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality… with constituent Greek and Turkish Cypriot state,” but the wording triggered criticism that Anastasiades was ceding too much in the way of concessions in a desperate bid to solve the problem that has eluded envoys for almost 40 years.
Turkish Cypriots suspended the last round of talks in mid-2012 when Anastasiades’ internationally recognised government assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency. Turkey, which wants to get into the EU and join Cyprus as a member but has barred its ships and planes, has said Cyprus is not a country.
A breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara, which keeps a standing army in place there.
Anastasiades, addressing Turkish Cypriots during the news conference, said: “I would like to reaffirm my honest intention and desire for a solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible.” He said confidence-building measures would be introduced to help the process.
Negotiators from the two sides will reportedly meet on Feb. 14 to discuss the agenda of the talks and how they will proceed.
Hubert Faustmann, Associate Professor of History and Political Science at Nicosia University, said the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits off Cyprus had given new impetus to talks that have dragged on for decades. “This is the best chance for peace since 2004 because of oil and gas,” Faustmann told Agence France Presse.
“Washington has put so much weight behind this latest peace effort because oil and gas is a game changer in the wider context,» Faustmann said.