Leaders of both sides of the divided island pledge to meet three times a week in the coming weeks to resolve a host of disputes as EU membership looms.
Rauf Denktash and Glafcos Clerides agree to resolve disputes
After 90-minutes of talks Wednesday the leaders of both sides of the divided island of Cyprus pledged to meet three times a week to work towards a peaceful resolution to almost three decades worth of differences.
The aging leaders of the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, met Wednesday morning on the United Nations base at the Nicosia Airport. Under international pressure to reach resolution and with EU membership for one half of the island looming, the two leaders agreed on a series of meetings that will begin next week.
"It was a very encouraging start," said Alvaro de Soto, the UN special envoy to the talks.
Denktash, whose northern republic is recognized only by Turkey, said the old adversaries had a "very good, very good meeting," according to wire reports. Clerides who shook hands with Denktash before and after the talks, had no comment.
Diplomats and world leaders have dubbed 2002 the year for solving the Cyprus issue, which has stumped even the most successful international diplomats.
The European Union has announced that the southern two thirds of the island, the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, will be admitted into the European Union with or without the Turkish northern half.
The two halves have been divided since 1974, when a Greek-inspired coup prompted an invasion by Turkey on the northern half of the island. There are still 35,000 Turkish troops stationed on the northern half of the island, and more than 1,000 United Nations soldiers manning the Green Line, which separates the two halves of the island and splits the capital of Nicosia.
"It can’t be an easy task for a problem pending for so many years, but we have to do our very best," Michaelis Papapetrou, one of three advisers on Clerides’ team, told Reuters.
Threats from Greece, Turkey, the EU
The talks have been shadowed by vague threats by both Greece and Turkey. Greek officials have threatened to block eastern expansion of the European Union if Cyprus is not admitted.
Turkey’s prime minister has threatened to annex the northern third of the island if Cyprus gains EU membership without the northern third of the island.
The threat is a grave one and many on both sides believe it could be a step towards war between NATO partners Greece and Turkey.
The EU Enlargement Commission head Gunther Verheugen has said that if Turkey annexes northern Cyprus, it can forget about joining the union.
"However, this is not the solution we would envisage." Verheugen said in an interview with Deutschlandradio last week. "The clear position of the Commission has already been stated and we are moving forward on the question of Cyprus"