BRUSSELS (AVRUPA TIMES) Negotiations to solve the Cyprus issue are the closest they have ever been to a breakthrough, Turkey’s EU minister said Friday.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency following his meeting with European Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans in Brussels on Friday, Volkan Bozkir said:
"The Cyprus issue is a problem that has been going on for 50 years. Today, we are at a point which gives us the most hope for reaching a solution."
Bozkir said a referendum on the reunification of the island could be held by the end of March 2016.
"If all works and negotiations continue as planned, there is a very strong possibility for holding a referendum by the end of March," he said.
On April 24, 2004, a referendum based on a plan by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was held on both sides of the island. The vote was approved by the Turkish community but rejected by the Greek population.
"I really believe that the Cyprus issue will be solved this time," Bozkir added.
The Cyprus issue remains a major obstacle to Turkey’s EU accession plans, as several chapters, including chapter 15 on energy, are blocked by the Greek Cypriot administration.
Out of 35 "chapters", or policy areas which must be completed in order for the country to join the 28-nation bloc, only 13 have been opened.
"If [the Greek Cypriot administration] would decide to lift the block today, chapter 15 could be opened tomorrow," Bozkir said.
"The chapters expected to be opened [next year] include the ones on education, energy, chapter 23 and 24 [on judicial and fundamental rights] and chapter 31 on foreign, security and defense policy," Bozkir said.
Bozkir’s comments echoed those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Thursday that an end to the division of Cyprus was "within reach", after he visited both sides of the island to encourage peace talks.
"I am more convinced than ever that a resolution to the longstanding division of Cyprus is within reach, and with it, the many benefits of unity for all the people of the island," Kerry said after meeting both Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci and the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades.
Akinci and Anastasiades resumed talks on reunifying the island following Akinci’s election in April.
Negotiations resumed following a two-year hiatus in February 2013 but stalled in October last year after a row over mineral exploration around the island.