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Kerry Takes On Big Diplomatic Challenge: Reuniting A Divided Cyprus

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Secretary of State John Kerry has taken up yet another conflict. Kerry has addressed Middle East peace talks, tried to end Syria's war, and made a nuclear deal that has shaped a long-running tension with Iran. Now he's adding something else. He wants to unfreeze a longtime conflict over the divided island of Cyprus, which he is visiting. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: So many diplomats have tried to reunite Cyprus that it now has a certain reputation.

REBECCA BRYANT: People tend to call Cyprus a graveyard for diplomats.

KELEMEN: That's Rebecca Bryant of the London School of Economics, who says she's hopeful now that Greek and Turkish Cypriots can finally make headway in U.N.-mediated talks.

BRYANT: What seems to be different at this moment is that there are two leaders, a Greek Cypriot leader and a Turkish Cypriot leader, who really genuinely seemed committed to a solution.

KELEMEN: The trouble is the two sides have a long list of disputes dating back to 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus following a Greek-backed coup. So, James Sawyer of the political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group gives this diplomatic push just a 60 percent chance of success.

JAMES SAWYER: If this kind of stalls and festers a little bit throughout 2016, then both the public on the Greek Cypriot side as well as the Turkish Cypriot side will kind of lose their appetite for making concessions.

KELEMEN: Donors who will be expected to help pay for reunification may also get distracted. For now, though, Sawyer believes, the stars are aligned.

SAWYER: The three guarantors, Greece, Turkey, the U.K., as well the EU and the U.S. and Russia are all supportive of a deal.

KELEMEN: Russia's dispute with Turkey over Syria could complicate matters. Secretary Kerry certainly hopes not, saying he thinks a solution to Cyprus could lift up the entire region.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KERRY: All you have to do is look in any direction from here, and you can appreciate how much the world could use an island of peace, harmony and prosperity in the Mediterranean right now.

KELEMEN: That from a secretary with many other diplomatic challenges on his agenda, Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.