Cyprus reunification talks may lead to referendum, Nami says

Turkish and Greek Cypriots may vote in a referendum in March to unify after a four-decade separation if officials from both sides can agree on a plan by end of the year, foreign minister Ozdil Nami of the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state which is recognized only by Turkey said on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Nami said that for the first time a Greek Cypriot envoy will visit Ankara, while a Turkish Cypriot envoy will travel to Athens later this month. The visits come before officials from both sides gather for talks, possibly on November 4, said Nami, who met Wednesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“There is a window of opportunity,” Nami said. “The window is narrow, but we won’t be starting from scratch.”

Cyprus has been divided between Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking regions since Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974 following a coup by Greek-Cypriot supporters of union with Greece.

“We are at a critical stage,” Davutoglu said Wednesday. “If there is strong will then an opportunity for peace and desired environment for negotiations will rise.”

The Turkish side has no preconditions to restart talks and is ready to return land to Greek Cypriots, Nami said.

“Reunification may bring great economic advantages to both sides,” Nami said. “The Greek side is spending 1 million dollars on military per day and its trading vessels can’t access Turkish ports, while its planes can’t use Turkish air space; tourism is suffering.”

Talks may also may enable Cyprus to export gas to Europe via Turkey, Nami said.

Noble Energy Inc. reported Cyprus’s first offshore natural-gas find in 2011. Natural gas reserves in Cypriot waters may be as much as 60 trillion cubic feet, more than six times the UK’s proven gas reserves according to BP Plc.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said on September 17 that the economic crisis was a catalyst for a new attempt to solve the 39-year-old division. He said on Octber 2 that the country’s natural gas reserves are not a subject for negotiation in reunification talks for divided island.

Anastasiades will be in Athens on Saturday for talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. [Bloomberg]