Efforts to restart the stalled Cyprus talks were revived this week having been left on the backburner due to the economic crisis, while goodwill mediators want to lure Turkey to the negotiating table after it lost yet another opportunity to become a dealmaker in the Middle East.
The Cyprus government’s diplomatic efforts have been picking up momentum in recent months, building bridges with neighbours in the eastern Mediterranean, maintaining strong ties with Russia and repairing broken communication with the U.S. and western European partners.
President Nicos Anastasiades had a brief meeting with US President Barack Obama in New York, on the sidelines of the 68th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, who hinted at a small, yet important role for Cyprus in the “turbulent” Middle East region, now that Washington wants to improve relations with Iran, while Secretary of State John Kerry said he plans to pay a visit to Cyprus, the highest ranking official to step foot on the island since Condoleeza Rice.
Even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been pressing for a revival in the talks that saw little progress in the past decade, due to lack of any serious incentive from either side.
The discovery of natural gas reserves, however, has sparked a keen interest from Ankara to have some say in sharing the natural resources lying offshore between the Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon.
Ban commended Anastasiades for his important efforts in addressing the economic and financial crisis in Cyprus and the two discussed preparations for the resumption of negotiations.
“I informed the Secretary-General of my strong conviction that the active participation of the European Union would not only benefit the procedure but would significantly reinforce the efforts to achieve a right solution,” Anastasiades said.
Although Turkish officials want to continue playing hardball over Cyprus, Ankara seems prepared to accept Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis, while his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Osman Ertug will visit Athens separately to talk to the Greek government.
The initiative conceived by Anastasiades was reportedly agreed in New York by the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers, Evangelos Venizelos and Ahmet Davutoglu.
“We can create a new momentum in the Cyprus problem, based on the proposals made by President Anastasiades,” Venizelos told reporters, adding however that there was no discussion with Davutoglu of a quartet including Greece, Turkey, the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey’s involvement, Anastasiades said, as the force that controlled the northern part of Cyprus, would be beneficial to the talks.
President Abdullah Gul had toned down his speech compared to previous addresses to the General Assembly, saying that it was up to the Greek and Turkuish Cypriot sides to resolve the problem and to start talks without any “ifs and buts”.
The ruling Democratic Rally (DISY) was quick to praise the progress in the efforts to restart talks, saying that “the President and his government are undertaking initiatives that could change the international environment.”
DISY said that the proposal to reopen the fenced off city of Famagusta, in return for allowing the Turkish-held port to become an official port of call, “could become a catalyst towards building achieving cooperation and trust between the two communities. This is a proposal that has been considered seriously and is being perceived positively by the European Union and the international community.”
Ambassador Mavroyiannis said this was “a good development, if confirmed, which will do away with one of the obstacles regarding the status of each side.”
The problem of Turkey not recognising the Republic of Cyprus has been overcome by appointing a negotiator who does not represent the state, but the Greek Cypriot community, he explained.
His Turkish Cypriot counterpart Osman Ertug also said that this was an “important development” and has been the desire of the Turkish Cypriot side.
Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on Friday said "there is no time to waste at the negotiation table," on Cyprus.
"The time for solution for Cyprus has come. A solution will not be provided as the time passes by and generations change," he said.
Meanwhile, Venizelos and his Egyptian and Cypriot peers, Ioannis Kasoulides and Nabil Fahmy, agreed in New York to delineate the offshore exclusive economic zones, so they can seek and exploit natural resources, and to deepen cooperation on the political and economic levels.
Venizelos said the swift delineation of the zones would allow them to “tap reserves and give our nations growth prospects.” Cyprus and Egypt have already delineated their respective EEZ in a bilateral agreement.
The issue of natural gas and its exploitation, both for economic and regional political benefit was also raised by Nikos Lygeros, a mathematical genius who also consults governments on issues of development.
Asked in a local magazine interview, “what do you believe about the solution to the Cyprus problem?” Lygeros said simply, “the countdown started with (the discovery of natural gas in) the EEZ.”
“For Cyprus, the hydrocarbon (finds) do not just offer a note of optimism, but it is the next reality. For the economic situation to change Cyprus must proceed with the next steps related to the exploration of natural gas within its EEZ,” he said.
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