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Greek and Turkish Cypriots inch toward talks with each other

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have begun inching toward each other. That does not mean a final settlement of their differences is in sight. Cyprus has been a divided island for more than 10 years now, and the split deepened last November when Turkish Cyprus declared independence as a separate nation.

But for the first time in five years there has been some movement toward a package deal, according to reliable reports at United Nations headquarters.

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UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar persuaded Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Spiros Kyprianou to engage in ''proximity talks.'' For two weeks Mr. Perez de Cuellar acted as a go-between, talking daily to both politicians separately in his office. He submitted to both a number of ''working ideas'' that helped them narrow their differences.

The talks dealt, essentially, with two sets of provisions: confidence-building measures and the outline of a final settlement. The two are to be linked, and ''the initial small steps are to start only when an agreement is reached on a package,'' the highly placed source explains.

In the plan, the Turkish Cypriots are expected to return the port of Varosha to the Greek Cypriots. They in turn would allow the Turkish Cypriots access to the International Airport of Nicosia, which would improve Turkish Cypriots' economic access to the outside world.

More basically, it makes for a trade-off between territory and Constitution.

''In return for more clout, politically, in a future federal Cypriot government, the Turks would hand back part of the territory they seized in 1974, '' according to a Western official in a position to know.

''So far a wide gap still divides the Greek-Cypriot vision of a federally united Cyprus from the Turkish-Cypriot concept. The Turks expect the central Cypriot government to be weak and symbolic, the Greeks demand it to be strong.''

A diplomat close to the peace process says, ''The Turks now agree to return roughly 2 percent of the territory they seized. The Greeks expect a much larger - say 75 percent - territorial restitution. But these are bargaining positions. Given political will on both sides to come to terms, these obstacles can be overcome.''

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A second round of ''proximity talks'' has been set to start Oct. 15. A third round may take place in January.

Observers here disagree as to why the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have suddenly agreed to melt the ice.

''The Greek Cypriots have come to realize time may be working against them,'' says a European diplomat. ''As for the Turkish Cypriots, their economy is lagging, despite the support of Turkey, and a settlement would in any event leave them with a good part of the territory they have unilaterally seized.''

Another envoy is more somber: ''There are indications the US government has asked the Turks to show some flexibility at this time to get the Greek voters off President Reagan's back. Ankara prevailed upon the Turkish Cypriots and they agreed to take the Greek Cypriots for a ride, until the US elections are over.''

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