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High stakes as Cyprus talks resume 11 février 2014

Posted by Acturca in South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Guardian (UK) February 11, 2014, p. 16

Helena Smith

After four months of intense haggling over an eight paragraph long joint communique, Cyprus’s estranged Greek and Turkish leaders will today revive stalled peace talks with the aim of once and for all reuniting the island. Their meeting, at a disused airport in Nicosia’s UN-patrolled dead zone, comes almost two years after the last round of high-level negotiations broke down.

On both sides of Cyprus’s ethnic divide, sceptics are already sharpening their pens. There is, they say, an element of deja vu to a psychodrama that has defied resolution by a battalion of mediators for the past four decades. After all, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus by a Turkish army avenging an attempt to unite the island with Greece. It also marks more than 50 years since a power-sharing arrangement between both communities collapsed in the wake of independence from Britain.

On both sides, there are two generations who have little or no memory of co-existence.

But this time could be different. A confluence of events – unimaginable a decade ago when the island’s two feuding communities came the closest to bridging their differences – has created the conditions for unforeseen hope.

When the Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, meets Dervis Eroglu, the leader of the breakaway state unilaterally declared by the Turkish Cypriots in 1983, he will do so in the knowledge that the stakes are higher than a simple peace on Aphrodite’s isle.

In Ankara, Athens and Nicosia, officials are describing the discovery in the eastern Mediterranean of vast natural oil and gas reserves as a game-changer that has made a settlement pressing. Washington, which played an unexpectedly active role in re-igniting the talks, waded in after it became clear that exploitation of the hydrocarbons would require regional stability not only on Cyprus but between Israel and Turkey as well.

Anastasiades admits the “hard work” begins now. The ever-thorny issues of security, territory and property still divide the two communities, as does the idea of either Greek or Turk wielding more power in a “loose federation” of two constituent states that would underpin any form of reconciliation.

But Greek Cypriot officials, who speak of a “seismic shift” in Turkey, have begun to express confidence that hydrocarbons could foster cross-border cooperation.

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, called his Greek counterpart, Evangelos Venizelos, at the weekend to convey his “deep pleasure” at the talks being revived.

Analysts say Turkey’s beleaguered leader, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, would welcome a foreign policy success in Cyprus, at a time when his scandal-hit government is not only under immense fire but faces unprecedented pressure with elections in March.

Anastasiades calls the chance of peace a “win-win situation”. With the internationally recognised southern sector of Cyprus experiencing its worst financial crisis since 1974 and Turkish Cypriots increasingly isolated and impoverished, the time has never been better, he says.

But while the financial crisis undoubtedly increases the pressure on Greek Cypriots, Anastasiades faces a formidable task of convincing hardlined nationalists. The last time a referendum was held in 2004, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected reunification, leaving Turkish Cypriots, who had voted in favour, out in the cold. In his heart Anastasiades knows that when that moment comes, it may well be his most difficult challenge yet.

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