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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 18:45 GMT
Cypriot president: Man in a hurry
By Jonny Dymond
Europe correspondent, BBC News

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias
Mr Christofias has a vision but rules out big measures for now
Is a new era about to dawn? That's the impression you get from the hype surrounding the Republic of Cyprus' new President, Demetris Christofias.

One of the most mind-bogglingly complex and bitterly fought stalemates in modern European history rests, once again, on high-level talks. They start on Friday.

Judging from the pre-talks publicity, things are looking good.

Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of northern Cyprus, the self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" - which no-one but Turkey, its occupier and sponsor, recognises - is an old friend of the new president.

I hope that the hand which I give to Mr Talat finds his hand
Demetris Christofias

The president has gone out of his way to talk about his desire to find a deal which has eluded more than three decades of diplomats and negotiators.

And he says he is in a hurry.

I asked him what, other than enthusiasm, he brings to Friday's talks.

"We have a vision," he says, "that the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots are children of the same island. They have to find, without foreign intervention, a way to reconcile.

"I hope that the hand which I give to Mr Talat finds his hand."

Which is all very nice. But is there anything new on the table? Yes and no.

LEDRA STREET
The UN buffer zone at Ledra Street, Nicosia

The Ledra Street crossing, the main road that runs between Greek and Turkish Cypriot Nicosia that is currently blocked at either end by checkpoints, is the next target for negotiators who want to get the talks unblocked.

But what about a big measure, like lifting the block on direct trade between the north of the island and the EU - of which the Republic of Cyprus is a member?

Not any time soon.

The power which controls the whole Cyprus problem is Turkey - Turkey is the invader and the occupier
Demetris Christofias

Why don't the Turkish Cypriots use the airport at Larnaca, in southern Cyprus, the president asks? After all, it is closer than the port at Famagusta in the north.

The answer, says the president, is simple.

"What Turkey wants unfortunately," he says, "is to promote a second state in Cyprus."

So does the president see Turkey as the puppet master, when it comes to the future of northern Cyprus?

"The power which controls the whole Cyprus problem is Turkey," he says.

"Turkey is the invader and the occupier, Turkey insists on keeping 43,000 soldiers on the island, and in fact they control the political life of the Turkish Cypriots."

map

Back in 2004 the Turkish government took a fairly significant political risk in backing the plan drawn up by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; the Annan plan was put to Cyprus' residents north and south.

The north accepted it, the south rejected it overwhelmingly.

But Turkey gets no credit for its stance back then from President Christofias.

"The Annan plan was a very nice present to Turkey," he says. The round of talks starting on Friday will be based on the negotiations launched in 2006. Which have gone nowhere, slowly.

So is it all another pre-doomed effort? No, say outside observers.

Hugh Pope, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, pronounces himself "cautiously hopeful" that the new talks will come up with something.

The Cypriot republic, he explains, needs ownership of any deal that comes out.

Turkish Northern Cyprus needs its efforts acknowledged. And if anyone can drive a compromise, he says, it's President Christofias.

Hopes have been raised and dashed many times before.

President Christofias will not race ahead of his electorate. But after decades of deadlock, things may be about to change.



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