United Nations, N.Y. — The International Airport of Nicosia in Cyprus might be reopened before long. ''This would mean a small step in the right direction,'' says a Western diplomat.
But more than ever before, Greek and Turkish Cypriots seem to be talking past each other rather than to each other.
Nevertheless, United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is attempting once more to bridge the positions held by both sides and to bring about some diplomatic movement toward a solution.
Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash recently presented Mr. Perez de Cuellar with a set of proposals, including handing over to the UN control of the port of Famagusta, now occupied by the Turks, and the Nicosia International Airport. This would allow 180,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees to return to their homes.
Cypriot President Spiros Kyprianou did not advance counterproposals in response. In fact, he ignored the Turkish-Cypriot plan and submitted to the UN secretary-general his own outline for an overall settlement.
Mr. Kyprianou's plan foresees a bizonal federal republic. It offers 25 percent of the island's territory to the Turkish minority (which represents 18 percent of the island's population and now occupies 38 percent of its territory). It no longer demands - as Greek Cypriots previously had - a strong central government, and foresees instead greater autonomy for the Turkish-Cypriot administration than the Greek Cypriots had been willing to concede until now.
This plan was immediately rejected by the Turkish Cypriots, since it implicitly rejects the recently created Turkish-Cypriot republic's legitimacy and demands the demilitarization of Cyprus through the withdrawal of all Greek and Turkish troops on the island. Internal security would be kept by a UN force.
''An acceptable, comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem is not in sight ,'' says a high-ranking diplomat who is familiar with both Greek and Turkish thinking.
''As long as the Turkish Cypriots were in a weaker position, they fought for a larger autonomy, while the Greeks wanted a stronger central government. Now the roles have been reversed. And the Greeks fear that a centralized Cypriot government - with the Turks holding the big end of the stick - would gradually come under the influence of Turkey rather than of Greece, as would have happened when they held the trump card. Now the Greeks have decided to sit tight and hope for a miracle to happen,'' he said.
In the background, both the United States and the Soviet Union have tried to stay out of the dispute. They prefer ''to disappoint both sides rather than to anger them by intervening,'' as one analyst puts it.
Nevertheless, Mr. Perez de Cuellar takes the Greek and Turkish-Cypriots positions at face value and does not worry about either side's ulterior motives.
He is believed to encourage both sides to agree at least to open the airport. Such an agreement could be within reach and could then be a steppingstone to further agreements.
''Only the step-by-step approach can lead out of the impasse,'' says one UN official.