NICOSIA (AFP) — Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders meet Tuesday to relaunch talks on ending the island’s division after a nearly two-year break, with optimism that the energy card could provide a breakthrough.
Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek-Cypriot leader, and his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu are to unveil a road map for the renewed UN-brokered talks, finally agreed on last week after protracted haggling over the text delayed a relaunch originally earmarked for November.
The breakthrough, according to experts, was triggered by the changed dynamics in the region created by the island’s untapped gas and oil riches offshore and a huge natural gas find in waters off neighboring Israel.
Hopes are high that these factors can transform the current frosty climate into one of reconciliation and trust that would make an elusive peace deal achievable.
“Turkey and Israel’s energy cooperation has triggered an American intervention and forced both sides to agree on a joint statement leading to a resumption of talks,” Hubert Faustmann, associate professor of history and political science at Nicosia University, told AFP.
“Washington has put so much weight behind this latest peace effort because oil and gas is a game changer in the wider context … It’s a win-win situation for all,” he added.
He said the lack of a Cyprus settlement after 40 years of division was hindering Israel’s cooperation with Nicosia to export gas.
“Israel is looking to diversify by gas pipeline through the sea of Cyprus to Turkey and invest in an LNG plant on the island, but Israel won’t give its gas to Cyprus unless there is a solution,” said Faustmann.
The talks, starting from 11:30 am, are to be held in the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital.
Turkish Cypriots suspended the last round of talks in mid-2012 when Anastasiades’s internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency.
A draft text of the joint statement leaked to the media says any final agreement would be subject to simultaneous referendums in both communities.
“This is the best chance for peace since 2004 because of oil and gas,” said Faustmann.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 still a divided island, after Greek Cypriot voters rejected a UN reunification blueprint that was approved by Turkish Cypriots.
And current President Anastasiades was one of the few Greek Cypriot politicians to back the controversial UN plan 10 years ago.
The US — which has commercial interests in the island’s gas and oil exploration — is aware that a divided Cyprus is a source of tension for NATO members Greece and Turkey.
Turkey is opposed to Cyprus exporting oil and gas – saying the energy wealth also belongs to Turkish Cypriots — and been accused of “gunship diplomacy” by the Greek Cypriots.
“There are huge time pressures for energy investment and any delay will see more economic misery for Cypriots,” said Faustmann.
A resumption of talks was delayed by the eurozone debt crisis, which forced Nicosia to secure a bailout from international creditors last March, plunging the island into deep recession.
Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.
A breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara.
Greece has given its backing to renewed talks, with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras calling them “one of the leading priorities of Greek foreign policy.”