Following his latest visit to the island, Jimmy Carter argues that the current situation represents possibly the best opportunity we have seen for a solution in Cyprus.
While I was in Cyprus many people asked me “Why have the Elders come here three times?” “Why do you think we can achieve peace now when we haven't done before?"
My answer is this: I think the situation now is very different from what I have known in the past, and represents possibly the best opportunity we have seen for a solution.
When I was elected President in 1976, the unity of Cyprus and peace on the island was near the top of my priorities. We tried to negotiate but at that time the negative influence from outside, and especially from Greece and Turkey, meant that the people of Cyprus had very little to say about what would happen.
In 2004 a proposal for reunification was made that was rejected by the Greek Cypriots. The UN was criticised for influencing the process too much as opposed to playing its primary role of facilitator and Cypriot citizens were not sufficiently involved in the final proposal.
The situation faced by Cypriots today is different. For the first time in history, they and their elected leaders will decide their own future.
I don’t believe there are any two leaders anywhere on the globe who are so committed to reach an agreement without outside influence or intervention than Greek Cypriot leader, Demetris Christofias and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat. In them I believe Cyprus has two leaders fully committed and dedicated in their pursuit of making solution a reality, even as they go through complex and very difficult negotiations. But these are only the first steps towards building a lasting peace in Cyprus.
These two leaders are also looking over their shoulders, Mr Talat to the north and Mr Christofias to the south of this island, to see how their fellow citizens assess their performance – and if they are to succeed it is extremely important for them to have clear and strong expressions of support for success from the people. After all, they are the ones who will vote for it, who will implement it and who will live with the day to day reality of life in a united Cyprus.
If this effort fails, I don't believe Cyprus will be blessed with a continuation of the current situation. I think that the present differences, which are already serious, will become more so.
The island will remain divided, foreign troops will stay in place, and there will be no restitution of property claims. Failure may lead to an abandonment of hope, with a permanent division of the island and escalating distrust and animosity between the two communities.
I sincerely hope that the citizens of Cyprus will make the decision to unify this island. I don't have any doubt that the two leaders are dedicated to that proposition and I hope that the citizens will give them their full support. I have confidence in Cypriots’ desire to shape their own peaceful and prosperous future. I believe they can only assure themselves of that future if they choose to build it together.