The leaders of Cyprus' divided Greek and Turkish communities meet in Geneva today and tomorrow for talks the two men hope will mark the beginning of the end of 14 years of strife on the island. UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, who arranged the talks, said in Geneva Monday that the object of the meeting is ``to re-initiate the negotiating process'' that stalled in 1986 when the Greek side rejected a UN proposal for a loosely federated Cypriot state.
The current negotiations will not be based on that proposal, but on accords reached in 1977 and 1979, which called for a bicommunal federal republic and left issues of freedom of movement and settlement and the right to property open to further discussion.
Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar said he hopes Greek Cypriot President George Vassiliou and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will in these talks ``prepare the ground for substantive discussions as soon as possible, in September.''
There is speculation those talks could take place in Geneva and could fix a timetable for a settlement, which has tentatively been set for June 1, 1989. They could very well set up working committees to hammer out details in the interim.
Denktash and Vassiliou say they don't expect too much from the Geneva talks, but both expect that a Cyprus solution is feasible by next June.
The Geneva talks are simply the beginning of that long process.
Cyprus has been partitioned into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north, which covers about one-third of the island, since 1974. After a Greek junta-backed coup on the Mediterranean nation, Turkish troops invaded twice, advancing finally to the present partition line, which is overseen by UN peace-keeping troops.
After years of ups and downs involving UN-sponsored peace initiatives, little progress has been made toward reunifying the island. But in the wake of improved Greek-Turkish relations - a process begun earlier this year, when Greek and Turkish prime ministers met in Athens for the first time in 36 years - the mood seems to be right for a period of compromise and change on the Cyprus issue.
Prior to leaving for Geneva on Monday, Vassiliou told reporters that ``all over the world, a peace epidemic has broken out and we simply don't want to be left out ... If all goes well, it will be a long process.''
Vassiliou, a millionaire businessman and political neophyte who was elected in February with the mandate to end the Cyprus stalemate, told journalists last week that he is ``in a hurry.''
Vassiliou has, since his election, been prompting the UN, Turkish Cypriot leaders, and US officials to begin settlement negotiations again.
He has filled the last few months with a marathon of trips between New York, Washington, Athens, and Nicosia in an effort to begin progress on the Cypriot issue.
Denktash, quoted in a leading Turkish newspaper over the weekend, said, ``an agreement can be reached by 1989 ... ''
Both leaders go into the meetings with the basic goal of reunifying the island under a federal system. But they differ widely on how such a system would work and when and how many of the estimated 29,000 Turkish troops would be withdrawn from Cyprus.