The leaders of Greek and Turkish Cyprus have agreed to move ahead with reunifying the divided country. The two sides restarted negotiations after a nearly two-year stalemate.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Dervis Eroglu, said at a meeting in Nicosia on Tuesday that they would restart talks to create a two-zone federation reuniting the Mediterranean island country.
"The leaders expressed their determination to resume structured negotiations in a results-oriented manner," said a joint statement read out at a news conference by Lisa Buttenheim, the UN envoy to the island.
Cyprus split in 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup that sought a union with Greece. The internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot dominated southern part of the island joined the European Union in 2004. A breakaway state declared by Turkish Cypriots in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara.
Turkish Cypriots suspended the last round of talks in mid-2012, when Anastasiades' Republic of Cyprus assumed the EU's rotating presidency. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "We are heading toward a new process in Cyprus," but added that he hoped the current negotiations would take "no backward steps."
Anastasiades said it was important that Tuesday's talks employ a new approach to avoid the fate of previous negotiations over the past four decades, which have failed to produce results.
"Today's joint statement outlines the basic principles for a solution… [It] is not the final accord, but the beginning of an arduous effort in order to reach the desired goals," he said.
Negotiators are scheduled to meet later this week in an attempt to make more progress. Buttenheim said the leaders would work for a diplomatic solution "as soon as possible" but gave no deadline as to when the talks would end.
The European Commission announced that Tuesday's agreement had laid a "solid foundation" for the resumption of talks and an eventual unification deal, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged the organization's "resolute commitment" to the talks.
The US, which was widely seen as being a key player in orchestrating the renewed negotiations, congratulated the two sides for coming together on Tuesday. The island's untapped oil and gas wealth has reportedly played an important role in revitalizing reunification talks.
"Through a settlement, both communities can realize their full potential, with enhanced stability and economic prosperity for all the people of the island," a White House statement read.
Britain, from which Cyprus was granted independence in 1960, called the deal an important step forward.
"Their continued pragmatism and willingness to find a solution will be vital in the months ahead to ensure the reunification of Cyprus becomes a reality," Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement from the British embassy in Nicosia.
dr/mkg (AP, Reuters, AFP)