NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Commission's top official expressed optimism Thursday that renewed peace talks in Cyprus can lead to a deal which the EU would support financially.
Urging rival leaders to grab the "unique opportunity" of reunifying the eastern Mediterranean island nation, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe would be "deeply involved with the financing" of a peace accord.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but EU law only applies in the south which enjoys full membership benefits.
Juncker praised Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, for their "common determination" to achieve progress in United Nations-mediated talks.
"After the talks I had with the two leaders I'm very optimistic, they trust each other," Juncker told a news conference after talks with Anastasiades.
Juncker hailed an agreement Thursday whereby EU protected status would be given to Cyprus' traditional cheese in both its Greek and Turkish names — Halloumi and Hellim. That means Turkish Cypriot manufacturers could export the cheese to EU countries through southern ports.
Peace talks resumed in May after an eight-month pause triggered by a feud between the Cypriot government and Turkey over the island's right to explore for gas and oil deposits off its shores.
"The formidable energy potential of this country should be put at the service of unity and bridge-building," said Juncker.
Talks are at an early stage. Likely thorny issues include military intervention rights accorded to Turkey.
Both leaders agree that any peace accord should be anchored on EU principles and law. Cyprus is a member of the EU but only the Greek southern part of the island enjoys the benefits.