Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have met in Nicosia to lay the foundation for resuming reunification talks to try and end the 34-year division of the Mediterranean island. This new peace drive, backed by the U.N., is seen by many observers as the most promising bid to reunite Cyprus in decades. Cyprus has been split between a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Nathan Morley reports for VOA from Nicosia.
Following a meeting between Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, which lasted just over two hours, the United Nations special representative to Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said that significant progress had been made to build confidence and create a solid foundation for the negotiations to re-unify the island. U.N. officials said the two sides will meet again on September 11.
Downer, who took the job as U.N. envoy just two months ago, said the outcome of these talks was critical.
"There have been difficult moments over the past months, the Cyprus problem is not insurmountable and the negotiations can and must have a successful outcome," Downer said.
The two leaders have many sensitive issues to tackle during these negotiations including property rights, those displaced after the 1974 Turkish invasion and the presence of about 40,000 Turkish troops in northern Cyprus.
Cyprus's division is also a thorn in Turkey's bid to join the European Union and it is thought Ankara is eager for these new talks between the two communities to work.
Since March there have been several confidence- building measures between the two sides, notably the opening of a crossing in Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia.
Nicos Rolandis served as the Greek Cypriot foreign minister between 1978 and 1983. He thinks that this new process is encouraging, but is not personally optimistic that the talks will actually yield results.
Rolandis does however admit that the friendship enjoyed by the rival leaders could prove to be a defining factor in the outcome of these talks.
"From this point of view things appear to be positive, and I don't think in the past we ever had such an arrangement," Rolandis said. "On substance, things are extremely difficult at the moment because time has lapsed, 34 years - there have been many changes in the field, regarding settlers, regarding properties, regarding the attitude of the Turkish Cypriots which apparently has changed. So I'm not very optimistic myself, but we should give it a chance."
The former Turkish Cypriot foreign minister Serdar Denktash points the finger of blame for failed past peace processes at Greek Cypriots, saying they are not prepared to be flexible in negotiations. He told VOA News that he is not encouraged by this new peace drive either.
"Unfortunately we are not, I am not, the only reason for this is the Greek Cypriots attitude," Denktash said. "They do not want to share anything with the Turkish Cypriots and they show it and they make us feel it. So I am not optimistic."
Attempts to re-unite the island had until now been at a standstill for the past four years, since a U.N.-backed re-unification referendum was rejected by Greek Cypriots in the south but accepted by Turkish Cypriots in the north.
South Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.