Low expectations on Cyprus

BRUSSELS – The Greek-Cypriot leader expressed doubt yesterday that Cyprus reunification talks could produce a resolution this year but said he expected negotiations to continue despite a row with his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart this month. Dimitris Christofias said during a visit to Brussels he was not «enthusiastic» about the prospects for successful talks since the election of nationalist Dervis Eroglu as leader of the Turkish-Cypriot part of the ethnically divided island in April. «There is a different leader with different options,» Christofias, who had good relations with previous Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, said of Eroglu. «I could not say I am enthusiastic that we could find a solution before the end of this year… We shall try,» he said in an interview. Eroglu’s election had raised concerns, also among EU diplomats, that talks could collapse or at least face new obstacles due to Eroglu’s preference for a two-state solution, which the Greek Cypriots reject. A resumption of talks between the two sides in May, after a two-month break for the election, led to an unusually upbeat assessment by the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the time that a peace deal could be brokered within months, in an effort to heal the decades-long rift that has obstructed Turkey’s path to the European Union. But talks ran into trouble in June over Eroglu’s position about the basis of negotiations, angering his Greek-Cypriot negotiating partners. Eroglu had questioned the basis of the UN-assisted process, Christofias has said, triggering a delay in talks. Meetings have since resumed but Christofias warned of future postponements. «If Mr Eroglu continues putting on the table his well-known positions, how could we [reach a peace deal this year]?» he said in Brussels, where he was meeting senior EU officials. Some EU diplomats say one way to reinvigorate talks could be to restart a discussion in the bloc on trade links with the northern part of the island, blocked by Cyprus. The EU says Turkey must carry out promises under a 2005 agreement known as the Ankara protocol to open its ports and airports to traffic from the Greek-Cypriot part of the island. Ankara says it first wants to see the end of isolation of the north. Because of the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, in place since December, trade links with the north will require a nod of approval both from EU governments and the European Parliament. The EU’s executive has asked parliament to consider a debate on the issue, an idea rejected by Cyprus. «If Turkey wants to have a clear path toward accession… they have to show understanding toward Cyprus,» Christofias said.