Cyprus’s rival leaders met Friday at a United Nations compound to restart talks aimed at ending the small Mediterranean island nation’s four decades of division.
In an echo of previous attempts to forge a peace deal, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, arrived at the capital’s derelict airport in search of a breakthrough to one of Europe’s most stubborn conflicts.
Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Last month’s victory of Akinci, a moderate, over a hard-line incumbent has offered a glimmer of hope that a peace deal may be in the offing.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the leaders’ commitment to push talks forward without delay, his spokesman said. The talks are the first between the two sides following an eight-month hiatus.
Anastasiades has lauded the “positive atmosphere” of his first meeting with Akinci earlier this week, in which both men spoke “for the first time, so openly and without inhibitions.” He added that he was particularly happy by the fact that the new Turkish Cypriot leader shares “the same vision” of a federated Cyprus.
The potential benefits of peace are huge.
Both communities would reap hundreds of millions in investments and economic growth. Turkish Cypriots would break their dependence on the military and financial might of Turkey which bankrolls the internationally isolated north and keeps more than 30,000 troops there.
Peace would also bolster regional security, unlock cooperation on the regions’ offshore gas deposits and ease Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
But similar optimism has preceded previous rounds of what ended up being failed talks, most recently in 2008.
Nicosia University Political Science Professor Giorgos Kentas, cautioned that there nothing tangible to show this round is driven by “some sort of exceptional momentum.”
Aside from the agreed belief in a federal structure, Kentas also said there’s still ambiguity over the nuts and bolts of a peace accord that needs to be cleared up to overcome a “culture of negativity.”
Previous talks have stumbled on key issues including how power will be shared, military intervention rights and property rights of displaced communities from 1974.
Officials said the leaders are looking at trust-building steps like opening more crossing points across the island’s divide to add momentum to the talks.