Peace is within reach in Cyprus, US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday (3 December) as he watched children from both sides of the divided island play basketball together.
Kerry is the latest foreign official to voice optimism that a deal may finally be at hand to reunite the east Mediterranean island, divided since 1974.
At the 29 November EU-Turkey summit, both Council President Donald Tusk and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu expressed optimism over the outcome of the ongoing talks. A deal could open up several chapters of Turkey’s accession negotiations, currently blocked.
Popular Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders want a settlement, Greece and Turkey have other problems, and the discovery of offshore gas could cushion the cost.
“In recent months, it has become clear that the ground really is shifting and tangible progress is being made,” Kerry said after separate meetings with Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak?nc?. The three planned to dine together afterwards.
“I am more convinced than ever that a resolution to the long-standing division of Cyprus is within reach,” Kerry added.
Earlier, he sank a basket himself and signed basketballs for the players.
The island’s Greek and Turkish communities have lived apart since Turkey invaded the north in 1974, after a brief Greek-inspired coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
One of the world’s oldest peacekeeping forces monitors a 180 km (110 mile) ceasefire line that slices across the island and bisects the capital, Nicosia.
The breakaway state in the north is recognized only by Turkey and Cyprus’s partition is an obstacle to Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 but an attempt to use its accession as a lever for reunification failed when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN peace plan in a referendum.
“A united Cyprus will stand as a beacon of hope in a tumultuous part of the world,” Kerry said, alluding to Syria’s civil war that has sent millions of refugees streaming into Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon and now into Europe.
Britain joined US-led air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, with Tornado jets taking off from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table.
Hopes for reunification were raised in 2002, when then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states. This group included the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.