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‘Symbol of Hope’: U.N. Chief Says Deal to End Cyprus Conflict Could Be Near

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GENEVA — Could the conflict in Cyprus, one of the world’s longest-running stalemates, be finally coming to an end?

The foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey met in Geneva on Thursday with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, the first time such a high-level gathering had taken place in the four decades since the island’s partition, in 1974. The meeting — coming one day after the two sides detailed their visions of how internal boundaries might be redrawn, another first — caused the United Nations’ new secretary general, António Guterres, to hold out the prospect of a deal.

“We are facing so many situations of disaster, we badly need a symbol of hope,” said Mr. Guterres, attending his first international meeting since taking up leadership of the United Nations. “I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017.”

Of course, the hopes of generations of diplomats working on the Cyprus problem have foundered before — notably in a 2004 referendum, when Greek Cypriots rejected a peace deal that Turkish Cypriot voters approved.

This time, all sides have been moving with great care to build support for a deal that could pass muster with voters on both sides.

The high-level meetings in Geneva came after 20 months of intensive negotiations, culminating in three days of talks this week between the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, over sensitive issues of governance and demarcation of community boundaries. The negotiations on Thursday focused on new security measures that would satisfy the Turkish Cypriots, whose security is now guaranteed by the presence of 40,000 Turkish troops on the island. Greek Cypriots have demanded the withdrawal of the Turkish troops.

“There is obviously a way to go,” Mr. Guterres said. “You cannot expect miracles, immediate solutions. We are not looking for a quick fix. We are looking for a solid and sustainable solution.”

But he added: “We are coming very close to a settlement.”

Delegations put forward many proposals in the course of discussions, and “time will decide whether they are solid or not,” Mr. Guterres said.

The meeting in Geneva included the foreign ministers of Cyprus’s so-called guarantor powers: Boris Johnson from Britain, Nikos Kotzias from Greece and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey. Under a 1959 treaty, those nations were allowed to intervene to defend the island’s sovereign integrity — the justification Turkey used in 1974 for its invasion.

Any peace deal will quite likely include significant changes to or even the elimination of the guarantor power arrangement.

Greece has called the system an anachronism and Britain has said it would be willing to give up its role as a guarantor if Cypriots desired that. But Turkey has insisted that some form of the system must be preserved. “Continuation of the ‘security and guarantees’ system,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, “is a necessity.”

Britain retains military bases in Cyprus that are sovereign British territory, but it has offered to give up nearly half of its land as part of a final settlement.

Mr. Kotzias said the Greeks favored a system of international inspectors, under the aegis of the United Nations, to “supervise the implementation of a potential agreement.”

After the talks ended on Thursday night, the United Nations said in a statement that a working group of deputy foreign ministers and senior officials would convene on Jan. 18 to draw up specific proposals in preparation for another round of talks by foreign ministers.

“The participants recognized that this is the time to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion,” the statement said. “This is a historic opportunity that should not be missed. The participants therefore committed to supporting the process towards a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.”

Mr. Cavusoglu said that “at the end we found we have totally different positions,” but added: “In one day we were not expecting an outcome or a result of this process. It’s not an easy issue. So no disappointment.”

In Cyprus, citizens expressed mixed emotions at the prospect of a settlement.

Simos Demetriades, a civil servant, worried that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could not be trusted. He also expressed concern about the treatment of properties in the north that legally belong to Greek Cypriots, and properties in the south that legally belong to Turkish Cypriots, that were seized years ago and have had new structures built on them.

Maria Hadjimichael, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cyprus, was more optimistic. “I hope that those representing the two communities will put the common future of the people on the island first,” she said. “And I hope that Greece and Turkey will let this be a decision of the Cypriot society. I want for my generation to be one of the last ones to be brought up on a divided island.”

Charalambos Rossides, a communications consultant, said: “Reunification, besides peace, will create new opportunities and prospects. It will create new dynamics at all levels of society and will allow people to gain back what division took away from them: creativity, diversity, culture, peaceful thinking.”

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