Nicosia, Cyprus — It could be the spring camomile which is blanketing the hills of Cyprus this spring, or the balmy days -- but there is optimism in the Cyprus air. Although most political analysts on the island do not expect major changes of position in the longstanding intercommunal problems between Greek and Turkish Cypriots until after parliamentary elections for both communities late this spring, a hopeful atmossphere persists.
Optimism had been all but dashed this winter by the sluggishness and intransigence of the most recent round of intercommunal talks aimed at reuniting the island. But in March, a series of developments not directly related to the talks gave rise to hope.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and a committee of Greek Cypriots finally agreed in late March on an investigatory committee to trace people missing since the 1974 fighting and before. Cypriot officials say 2,000 Greek soldiers and civilians are unaccounted for since the Turkish invasion. Turkish officials are asking that hundreds of Turkish Cypriots, missing since the beginnings of clashes in the early 1960s, also be traced.
The investigatory committee will be headed by a Red Cross official to be named by the United Nations secretary-general and will include a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot representative. Sources close to the negotiations call the development "an extremely constructive move, one that really could improve the overall climate."
Encouraging signs also appeared in the larger Greek-Turkish arena of which the Cyprus problem is a traditional part. The centrist Greek government of Prime Minister George Rallis in Athens and Turkey's seven-month-old military government have established a good working relationship.A notable example is the rapport between Greek Foreign Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and Turkish Foreign Minister Ilter Turkmen.
Reports from Athens and Ankara say Turkey might be willing to give ground on the Cyprus situation so as to strengthen the Rallis government in the face of a stiff election-year challenge by Andreas Papandreou, the left-wing, anti-Turkish politician. A breakthrough in the Cyprus talks by next fall's Greek elections could defuse the Papandreou campaign.
Both sides in Cyprus seemed happy recently with the initial moves of the Reagan administration in the eastern Mediterranean. As commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. had been instrumental in bringing Athens and Ankara close enough together for Greece to rejoin the NATO military command. Greece had quit over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
The Greek Cypriot press gave extensive play to Mr. Haig's mid-March congressional testimony which mentioned Cyprus.
"The climate today is somewhat more propitious for the resolution, or at least progress, on the historically intractable problems in Cyprus," Haig said. He indicated that the Cyprus problem is "high on our agenda," but he cautioned against premature optimism.
This, plus a recent statement in Paris by Foreign Minister Mitsotakis -- that there were "certain indications allowing optimism as regards a fair settlement" of the Cyprus problem -- appeared to please Cypriot politicians and commentators.
But Western analysts in Nicosia say the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections May 24 must take place before movement can be expected on major issues.
A strong showing by the pro-Western party of Glafcos Clerides, who has and favors good relations with Mr. Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, may help nudge President Spyros Kyprianou toward greater concessions with the Turkish Cypriot community. At the same time, a good showing by the 50-year-old communist Akel Party -- which favors continued dialogue with the Turkish community -- could also move Mr. Kyprianou, who will not stand for election until 1983, most observers believe, into a freer negotiating position.
The Greek side could improve matters by conceding on constitutional issues, the Turkish side with concessions on territory. The Turks hold 36 percent of the island with only 20 percent of the population. The Greeks, conversely, with 80 percent of the population, would automatically dominate a reunited Cyprus unless guarantees for Turkish representation were written into the constitution. The Turks argue for a federated system with undelegated power resting with the states; the Greeks for a strong central government.
A parliament with Mr. Clerides's Rally Party and the Akel Party in the strongest positions "could put pressure on the government to be flexible in the talks," a neutral diplomatic observer points out. "Whatever happens, one side or the other must make a move sometime soon -- but probably not before the elections. Neither side is ready to put on the table some proposal that could be used by the opposition."
If the political campaign running up to May 24 paralyzes the local Cypriot intercommunal scene, the next few months may nevertheless be a time when players outside the island make some progress. Secretary of State Haig's stopover in Athens on his Middle Eastern tour, and a possible meeting among Haig, Mitsotakis , and Turkmen at a NATO meeting in Brussels, as well as Turkmen's late April visit to Washington -- all of these occasions could provide forums for discussion of the Cyprus problem.