US Vice President Joe Biden met Cyprus leaders Thursday to spur talks on ending the island’s 40-year division and seek support for threatened sanctions against Russia despite the economic cost.
Biden held lunchtime talks with the island’s conservative President Nicos Anastasiades, who has overseen a sharp improvement in relations since he took office last year pledging to forge a “strategic partnership” after decades of Greek Cypriot distrust of Washington.
The two men inspected an honor guard from the Greek Cypriot National Guard and laid a wreath at a memorial to independence leader Archbishop Makarios III before heading into the meeting.
In the afternoon, the US vice president was to cross the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the island and its capital for talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
The breakaway state that Eroglu leads is recognized only by Turkey, whose troops occupied the island’s northern third in 1974, and Biden moved swiftly to reassure Greek Cypriots that the meeting signaled no change in US policy.
Washington recognizes only “one legitimate government” in Cyprus, that led by Anastasiades, said Biden, who is only the second US vice president to visit the island and the first since 1962.
“My visit and meetings throughout the island will not change that.”
Biden said he wanted to lend his support to the UN-backed reunification talks that the rival Cypriot leaders relaunched in February but said the details of a settlement were for them to work out.
He said it was “long past time… that all Cypriots are reunited in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation,” but added he had not come “to present or impose one.”
He was to dine with the two leaders and their negotiators together in the buffer zone in the evening, along with the head of the island’s now 50-year-old UN peacekeeping mission, Lisa Buttenheim.
The international community has welcomed greater input from Washington in talks in the hope that it might enable a breakthrough after two years of stalemate.
There has been no high-level US involvement in efforts to end the island’s division since Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification plan in a 2004 referendum.