US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his optimism that the divided island of Cyprus will soon be reunited after meeting both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders on Thursday.
"In recent months, it has become clear that the ground really is shifting and tangible progress is being made," Kerry said, adding that he believes a deal to end the island’s division is “within reach.”
“Both leaders underscored something we strongly believe in the United States. Not only will a just comprehensive and lasting solution for Cyprus have an enormously positive impact on the island, it will lift up the entire region,” he said, after having returned from watching Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot youths play basketball together.
"A united Cyprus will stand as a beacon of hope in a tumultuous part of the world...And it will be a model for other areas in search of a peaceful, multi-ethnic future. All you have to do is look in any direction from here and you can appreciate how much the world could use an island of peace, harmony and prosperity in the Mediterranean right now.”
Kerry was believed to be referring to the conflict in Syria, which is only 50 miles away from Cyprus at its nearest point, placing the island on the frontline against the growing threat of militancy in the Middle East.
British fighter jets took off from sovereign bases in Cyprus on Wednesday to carry out air strikes targeting the DAESH terrorist group in Syria, just hours after the British Parliament voted in favour of such military action.
The island of Cyprus was divided between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities following a Turkish military intervention in July 1974 in response to a coup carried out by the Greek junta with the aim of annexing the island to Greece.
In 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), but did not gain international recognition.
Efforts led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan came close to reuniting the island in 2004 ahead of the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government’s accession to the EU, but this failed when the majority of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification in a referendum conducted on both sides of the island.
However, the discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has breathed new life into talks, with both sides as well as the international community encouraging a solution.
Speaking to reporters, Kerry peace on the island could turn Cyprus into a “regional energy and commercial hub.”
“We believe this is Cyprus's moment," Kerry said.
Kerry against guarantors
During his meeting Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and other officials in the Greek Cypriot-controlled southern Nicosia, Kerry reportedly agreed that a reunited Cyprus, as a member of the EU, should not have military guarantors.
According to the Treaty of Guarantee which was signed in 1960 shortly after Cyprus became independent from British occupation, Britain, Turkey, Greece are responsible for maintaining and restoring peace to the island.
It was under the terms stated in this treaty that Turkey intervened in Cyprus in 1974 and has maintained a military presence on the island ever since.
The Greek Cypriot administration has long argued that this treaty has become irrelevant and has made no secret of its desire to omit guarantors from a new peace deal, but Turkish Cypriots on the other hand largely support the role of guarantors.
Following his meetings in the Greek Cypriot south, Kerry cross the UN-controlled buffer zone dividing the island and made his way to the Turkish Cypriot north, where he met TRNC President Mustafa Akinci.
Akinci later told reporters that the subject of guarantors had not been brought up in his 40-minute meeting with Kerry, but said that the “common perception” was that this would be the final issue to be discussed in the negotiations.
Both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders then accompanied Kerry to a dinner hosted by the UN’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim at her residence in the buffer-zone. The UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, was also present.