Is it possible that Cyprus could be WHOLE within the end of the year???
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- The decades-long division of Cyprus could be resolved by the end of the year, the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots said Monday, a day after Greek Cypriots elected a new president.
President-elect Dimitris Christofias had campaigned on a pledge to act quickly to restart long-stalled talks to reunify the island.
"I believe that it won't be a surprise if we solve the problem by the end of 2008," Mehmet Ali Talat told reporters.
Decades of diplomatic efforts to heal the rift on the strategic island have failed.
Reunification would remove one of the obstacles to Turkey's efforts to join the EU and could ease strong objections to Kosovo's new independence among Greek Cypriots, who fear it would act as a precedent for north Cyprus. The island's division is also a major source of tension between NATO allies Turkey and Greece.
Cyprus has been divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup attempting to unite the island with Greece.
Talks have been stalled since Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. reunification plan in 2004. Turkish Cypriots approved the blueprint.
Christofias' election Sunday, after the ouster of hardline Tassos Papadopoulos in a surprise first round election result last week, has sparked hope for eventual healing of the division.
"The Greek Cypriot people decided on change. They chose a person who can make that change," Talat said, adding that "we believe this decision will be the start of a new era."
Christofias has pledged to meet with Talat, although a date or venue for that meeting has not been determined.
But Talat said it was enough that there was momentum in the peace process at last.
"I'm quite hopeful because I'm going to be negotiating," he said. "I want to solve the Cyprus problem. ... We want this with all our hearts and our souls."
But Talat stressed that difficult negotiations still lie ahead.
"The process ... is going to be very difficult," he said.
Christofias said he hoped to set up an initial, "exploratory" meeting with Talat soon.
"Naturally, the U.N. will be involved as usual, and I believe that soon we will arrange a first exploratory meeting," he said.
Although no date has been arranged, Christofias said he would first go to Athens next week, and then to Brussels before returning home.
The European Commission urged Christofias to restart talks quickly.
European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said Christofias' election "offers the opportunity to overcome the long-standing stalemate," his office in Brussels said.
"I would strongly encourage you to grasp this chance and without delay start negotiations under United Nations auspices with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on a comprehensive settlement."
Christofias, a Soviet-educated 61-year-old history professor, heads the communist-rooted AKEL party and has long had friendly ties with the Turkish Cypriot left wing.
Christofias won comfortably on Sunday night with just over 53 percent of the vote, ahead of conservative former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides with 46.6 percent.
Both had pledged to restart peace talks.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the vote "generated a renewed sense of hope -- among both communities on the island -- that progress towards a comprehensive settlement can be achieved during 2008."
Christofias met with British High Commissioner Peter Millett Monday morning. Britain, Cyprus' former colonial ruler, maintains two sovereign bases on the island and has long been involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve its division.
The commissioner stressed that "neither the U.K. nor the international community want to impose a solution on Cyprus. It is incumbent on the two communities to work together under the U.N. auspices."
He said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had invited Christofias to visit London.
The U.S. believes "2008 offers a window of opportunity for significant progress," the Embassy in Nicosia said.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sent a letter of congratulation to Christofias saying the election "will provide a new impetus to Cyprus' long-running efforts to end the Turkish occupation," in a mutually acceptable framework.