US VP Biden to visit Cyprus in peace push

AFP , Monday 12 May 2014

US Vice President Joe Biden (Photo: AP)

Cyprus confirmed on Monday that US Vice President Joe Biden will arrive on the divided island later this month to help push forward the UN-sponsored peace process.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told state radio that Biden has accepted an invitation from President Nicos Anastasiades and that preparations were being made for the visit.

He said the exact dates of the trip will be discussed on Tuesday in Washington between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides.

Media reports say Biden is due on the island from May 21-23.

The official Cyprus News Agency said he will encourage confidence-building measures such as allowing experts to enter the Turkish-controlled ghost town of Varosha to prepare a master plan for its revival.

The Greek Cypriot side has proposed that fenced-off Varosha in the Turkish-held north be handed over to United Nations administration that would allow the return of its original inhabitants.

Biden's visit is also expected to see the announcement of a new mine-clearing initiative on either side of the UN-patrolled ceasefire line, CNA reported.

Anastasiades has proposed the return of Varosha - once the island's premier tourist resort -- as a key confidence-building measure to restore trust between the island`s two communities.

The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia to unite Cyprus with Greece.

Before the invasion, Varosha was a tourist destination famed for hosting Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

It has remained an untouched ghost town for the past 40 years.

Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have vowed to seek an end to the island's four-decade division "as soon as possible," relaunching the peace talks on February 11 after a nearly two-year hiatus.

US intervention is seen as a major reason for the process being reignited. Washington has said it wants to see "historic progress" in the negotiations.

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