Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday held a key meeting to decide if enough progress has been made to warrant the launch of a new peace initiative to end decades of division on the island of Cyprus.
"The two leaders met today in a positive and cooperative atmosphere," said Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for Cyprus. "They discussed the issues of single sovereignty and citizenship, [on] which they agreed in principle."
Zerihoun hosted a four-and-a-half-hour meeting at his official residence inside the UN-patrolled buffer zone that has separated the communities for more than three decades. He said Christofias and Talat reviewed the work of expert committees from both sides that have been meeting since April to prepare for direct negotiations between the two leaders.
Zerihoun said Christofias and Talat agreed to hold another preparatory meeting on July 25. Initially set for the end of June, the direct talks have been delayed by at least a month because of disagreements on some of the more contentious issues.
The island's Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been divided since 1974, when Turkey militarily intervened in the north of the island in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. Christofias and Talat have agreed to resume peace talks this year, with diplomats hoping for a resolution to a conflict that has hindered Turkey's EU accession bid. During a landmark meeting on March 21, the two agreed to jumpstart a process of preparatory talks at the level of committees to pave the way for reunification talks.
Reunification talks stalled in 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN settlement blueprint drafted by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that was overwhelmingly accepted by the Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot administration joined the European Union soon after, and Brussels recognizes the Greek Cypriot-controlled government in the south as the island's sole authority.
The two Cypriot sides agreed in 2006 to look at an incremental approach to negotiations, but that too had stalled because of disputes over its agenda. Talat's last encounter with Christofias' predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos, ended in failure in September 2007.
"Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots retain contradictory views on federalism -- loose versus centralized -- thus there will be problems regarding executive authority," said Eastern Mediterranean University international relations professor Erol Kaymak.
Greek Cypriots fear that the absence of a clear framework for the direct talks could undermine plans for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation on which the two sides have a long-standing agreement. A May 23 meeting between Christofias and Talat did much to allay those concerns when both leaders issued a statement reaffirming a joint commitment to federation, but unease still lingers. Turkish Cypriots say direct talks need to start with the least possible delay because working groups have a limited mandate and cannot negotiate a deal.
University of Nicosia political science professor Hubert Faustmann said the two leaders will ultimately strike a "face-saving" compromise to sustain the peace drive's forward momentum and stave off another failure that could lead to permanent division. "In essence, there is still a will to continue," Faustmann said.
Australia's Downer steps down to become UN envoy for Cyprus
Former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will quit domestic politics and accept a post this week as a UN special envoy on the long-standing conflict in Cyprus, Australia's prime minister said on Tuesday.
Downer, 56, was Australia's longest-serving foreign minister during more than a decade of rule by former Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government. Howard lost his place in parliament during last November's elections that installed Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Downer decided not to take a leadership post in the opposition. He was expected to make a public statement Thursday, when he returns to Australia from a visit to the United States and London, his office said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Rudd said he discussed Downer's appointment during a conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon late on Monday. "We believe this is an important role for the United Nations, and we are completely behind Mr. Downer's appointment," Rudd told reporters Tuesday.
Downer told an Australian journalist in London he was taking the Cyprus post. "I'll be working toward helping the Cyprus saga, working as an envoy to try and resolve that long-standing issue," Downer was quoted as saying in the Herald Sun newspaper. The Australian newspaper reported in May that Ban was keen to use Downer to resuscitate stalled diplomatic efforts to reunify the island, which has been divided since 1974 when Turkey militarily intervened after a failed coup aimed to unite the island with Greece.
Downer has had his differences with the United Nations, including over Australia's military participation in the US and British-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 without UN approval. Howard sent 2,000 troops to join the invasion. Downer earned praise as foreign minister for helping forge a peace accord between Papua New Guinea and its restive island province of Bougainville in 1997.
He also pioneered a more interventionist Australian foreign policy in the South Pacific, such as Australia's leading role in a multinational military and police force that entered the Solomon Islands in 2003 to restore peace and public order after years of ethnic violence. Ankara Today's Zaman with wires