Cyprus Holds Little Hope for Peace Talks: Minister

March 4, 2002 - 0:0
COOLUM, Australia -- Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Sunday he held out little hope for a fresh round of peace talks to try to reunite the partitioned Mediterranean island.

With European Union membership looming, Cyprus's rival Greek and Turkish parties went back to the drawing board in January after a year-long gap to try to resolve the island's Logjam, encouraged by the United Nations and international community.

But Kasoulides said neither side had returned in a compromising frame of mind and little progress was made so far.

"It is worse I would say but this is the beginning," Kasoulides told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a Commonwealth leaders summit here in Australia.

"Allow me to be very cautious in expressing either optimism or pessimism because the first phase of negotiations was mostly devoted to tabling the initial positions but from those initial positions...I cannot discern any possibility of common ground."

Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Green Cypriot coup backed by the military Junta then ruling Greece.

Cyprus's Greek Cypriot-led government is the island's only internationally recognized government with a Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus, which covers about 36 percent of the island, recognized only by Ankara.

But talks over the legal form reunification should take have failed persistently over the years with neither side giving any ground and the Turkish side withdrew from talks in November 2000.

The Greek Cypriots want a bizonal bicommunal federation -- but the Turkish Cypriots want a two-state union, linked by a secretariat of foreign affairs but with no common constitution, parliament or central government.

The renewed impetus behind the talks, with the leaders to meet every Tuesday and Friday, has been forced by Cyprus's impending EU membership and the illness of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash who may need heart surgery within the next year.

Kasoulides said the EU could take the credit, as a settlement was not a precursor to membership. Brussels is expected to decide later this year on Cyprus's inclusion in the next enlargement.

But Kasoulides said the Turkish Cypriots current position would lead no where and was far beyond the parameters fixed by the United Nations' Security Council to reach a deal by June.

"But let me consider that this is the beginning and perhaps the positions will develop and that is why we remain with an open mind and will be constructive at the negotiations," he said.

"People should not be disappointed again because disappointment brings frustration and that is not a good thing.".

Kasoulides said Commonwealth leaders attending the March 2-5 summit at Coolum on Queensland's Sunshine Coast had expressed support for the resumption of talks.