ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey expects Greek Cypriots to quickly reverse a decision to halt reunification talks with Turkish Cypriots and resume their dialogue or risk harming peace prospects in a troubled region, a cabinet minister said on Wednesday.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades froze on Tuesday the latest attempt to negotiate with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu a settlement to end the Mediterranean island's 40-year division, citing what he said were Turkey's attempts to undermine gas exploration on the island.
"The (decision) is unfortunate, and I don't think it's sustainable. I expect the (Greek) Cypriot administration to change this wrong decision quickly," Volkan Bozkir, minister for European Union Affairs, said at a press conference to discuss the EU's annual report on Turkey's progress towards meeting criteria for membership.
"This is saddening as it harms glimmers of hope for our region, which is undergoing huge problems ... We hope that all of those who have an interest in peace and stability in the region will contribute to changing this decision that has surprised everyone," Bozkir said, calling on Greece, the United States and the EU to intervene to keep the peace talks on track.
Turkey became an official candidate for EU membership in 1999 but has been involved in a protracted entry process hamstrung over its human rights record and its policies on Cyprus, already a member of the bloc.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and keeps an estimated 30,000 soldiers on the island. It is the only country that recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while the rest of the world considers Greek Cypriots the sole authority.
Greek Cypriots say Turkey plans seismic research in seas off the southern coast of Cyprus from Oct. 20 and that this would encroach on an area which Cypriot authorities have already licensed for gas drilling. Italy's ENI launched drills for gas last month in the southern offshore zone.
Bozkir reiterated Turkey's allegations that Greek Cypriots are exploiting the island's natural resources for their own gain and excluding Turkish Cypriots from their share.
Numerous attempts at peacemaking since the ceasefire that took hold four decades ago have failed. The latest attempt started in February but the talks have been only intermittent and no progress has been made on deeply divisive issues, ranging from territorial handovers to the future governance of Cyprus in the event of a settlement.
(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Dominic Evans)