By Martin Banks - 22nd January 2013
The difficult economic situation has monopolised the campaign
A conference in Brussels has been told that Turkey has a "crucial" role in resolving the long-running Cyprus problem.
Speaking on Tuesday, former Cypriot official Sotos Zackheos also said the EU had a "substantial" part to play in finding a resolution to the protracted efforts to reunify the island.
With presidential elections due to be held in two weeks in the Greek-run southern part of Cyprus, he said, "Turkey has to make efforts to allay the fears of Greek Cypriots."
Cyprus has been divided for almost four decades and, until now, all efforts to reunify the island, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), have failed.
The latest round of peace talks, launched in September 2008, has - so far - failed to deliver tangible results.
While the talks were put into "limbo" during the Cypriot presidency of the EU, they are due to be restarted following the presidential elections in February.
However, Zackheos, a former senior official in the Cypriot foreign affairs ministry, cautioned that with Cyprus facing serious economic problems, "it is likely the economy may take priority over the peace talks during the first few months".
He said, "Unlike in the past when the Cyprus problem has been the focus of elections, this time the difficult economic situation has monopolised the campaign."
The conference, organised by the European Policy Centre think tank heard that while each side "continues to blame the other, the two communities are exhausted from years of discussions that have led nowhere".
Zackheos said that opinion polls showed that support for bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, particularly amongst the younger generation, is decreasing.
As time passes, the prospect of finding a solution seems more difficult, yet only a solution will bring real peace and security to the eastern Mediterranean and benefit the countries of the region, the conference heard.
A settlement would also greatly facilitate Turkey's EU accession process, as the Cyprus problem remains one of the biggest hurdles, said Zackheos.
The debate looked at the prospects for the future, including the main challenges, possible solutions and the implications of further failure.
Zackheos said, "Turkey has a crucial role to play but it has to allay the fears of the Greek Cypriots who are concerned about the treatment of minorities in Turkey.
"Turkey is also perceived as having problems with most of its neighbours while others think that it imposes is views and interests on others."
The event was held as part of the EPC's "Turkish insights" project, in cooperation with the Turkish confederation of businessmen and industrialists, Tuskon.
Amanda Paul, of the EPC, said it was hoped the upcoming elections would lead to a breakthrough in negotiations which had been in a "deep freeze" for over a year.
She said, "It is also important that this issue remains on the EU agenda."