US and Turkey upbeat about Cyprus reunification

Cyprus map.jpg

Turkey and the United States expressed hopes Tuesday that 2015 could be the year when a long-elusive diplomatic solution is finally found to the decades-old division of Cyprus.

“This is a problem that just has gone on for far too long, and it is begging for international efforts to try to help bring about a resolution, a lasting settlement,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said as he met with his Turkish counterpart.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have sought for more than four decades to resolve their split, with about 1,000 peacekeepers monitoring a ceasefire line that cuts through the heart of Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital.

A UN peace envoy announced this month that new negotiations are set to resume for resolving the island’s fate.

“The United States and Turkey both support the UN-led negotiations to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation,” Kerry said.

“We believe that the parties can make real and lasting progress in the year 2015.”

In 1974, in response to an Athens-engineered coup seeking a union with Greece, Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) later unilaterally declared an independent state.

The breakaway enclave, occupying about a third of the Mediterranean island, is recognized by Ankara, but the rest of the world recognizes the Greek Cypriot government.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still a divided island, and although the north is technically part of the bloc, Turkish Cypriots are denied nearly all of the benefits of EU membership.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu called for the United States to play an active role in any resumed peace process.

“Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have the political will for a solution, and we are waiting at the negotiating table,” he told Kerry. “We are hoping to reach a solution within 2015.”

The breakaway enclave is currently voting for a new leadership, after a close first round of polling, with the second round due to be held on Sunday.

“Thanks to the efforts and the support of United States, we can finally reach a (lasting) and fair solution in Cyprus,” Çavu?o?lu said.

Kerry also raised the Cyprus issue in talks Monday with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.

Last May, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest level US official to visit Cyprus since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1962.

>> Read: Biden optimistic about Cyprus reunification

He highlighted the potential role Cyprus could play in the region, due to its offshore gas reserves, whose exploitation for export to Europe has been hampered by the division and a festering dispute with Turkey.

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.

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