In divided Cyprus, new leader Christofias energizes unity bid
The Greek Cypriot president meets Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Talat Friday to discuss the renewal of reunification talks.
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But in Demetris Christofias, the new Greek Cypriot leader, the US and European Union see an opportunity to end the division of Cyprus – a conflict that has stymied mediators since 1974. Now, for the first time in decades, there are conciliatory leaders on both sides of the divide.
On Friday, Mr. Christofias will meet Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the estranged Turkish Cypriot community, to resuscitate moribund talks. It will be their first meeting since Christofias, a Soviet-educated builder's son with the common touch, came to power last month.
"Solving the Cyprus problem is the first priority of our government," he declared at his inauguration. Mr. Talat in turn welcomed Christofias's victory over hard-liner Tassos Papadopoulos. "We have every reason to expect a solution by the end of the year," he said.
A solution would benefit not only the island, but international interests as well. The island's division is a major obstacle to Turkey's ambition of joining the European Union. This frustrates Washington's strategic aim of bringing closer to the West a country it values as a secular Muslim democracy and NATO ally which borders on Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
The Cyprus problem is also an obstacle to rapprochement between NATO partners Greece and Turkey, despite the remarkable improvement in their bilateral relations in the past decade. And jousting between Ankara and Nicosia has hampered EU-NATO cooperation in trouble spots such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.
There are high expectations that Christofias and Talat will announce a goodwill first step Friday: the opening of a crossing point in Ledra Street, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Nicosia.
Establishing a connection at the core of Europe's last divided capital would be of practical as well as psychological and symbolic importance. It would boost confidence and improve the atmosphere for the difficult negotiations ahead on substantive issues.
Why Cyprus is divided