Cyprus leaders hope for resumption of peace talks at dinner

Flowers growing on a barrier made of barrels on the green line, a UN controlled buffer zone separating the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia

Nicosia (AFP) – Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hopes to reignite a dormant UN-backed peace process to reunify the island when he sits down for dinner next week with the Turkish Cypriot leader, officials said Friday.

“It is a positive development in the sense that it is something that needed to happen. It is not, of course, a formal negotiation, but it is a meeting through which the president hopes to resume talks,” said Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou.

“It will be a meeting without an agenda and this will allow the two leaders to freely exchange views,” he added.

The UN said there was no fixed agenda for Monday’s dinner date which is the leaders’ first meeting of any kind since reunification talks collapsed last July.

“It is up to the two leaders what they will discuss, there is an open agenda. We will leave it up to them,” UN official Elizabeth Spehar told reporters on Friday after meeting Anastasiades.

The United Nations is hoping that dinner diplomacy can break the current stalemate and open the way for a resumption of reunification talks that crashed at a Swiss summit last summer.

“As you know this will be the first time that they sit down with each other and speak in a number of months,” said Spehar

Diplomats are hoping the Cypriot leaders can find common ground on reviving the peace process, although expectations are not high.

The east Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Since Cyprus talks came to a gridlock, tensions in the region have heightened following Nicosia’s search for natural gas reserves which is opposed by Turkey.

The dispute over resources in the Mediterranean is another complicating factor in efforts to reunify the island after negotiations on the 44-year feud collapsed last year.

Anastasiades has said reunification talks cannot resume while Turkey is trying to block foreign companies from drilling for oil and gas offshore Cyprus.

Last month the European Union condemned Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean telling it to cease such actions against member state Cyprus.

Repeated rounds of talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation have all failed.