UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday he is "more optimistic than ever" that an agreement can be reached to reunite the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
But Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters after discussing upcoming Cyprus negotiations with new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that there are still "serious issues" regarding territory, the map, security and guarantees.
Nonetheless, he said the framework and understanding are there to reach a "settlement in Cyprus."
"And we need this not only as Turkey, Greece, or two sides in Cyrus — but the east Mediterranean, our region, and the world needs such a positive development," Cavusoglu said.
He spoke ahead of three days of talks in Geneva starting Jan. 9 between the island's Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci that will aim to reach a comprehensive settlement to their decades-old division.
The summit is seen as the apex of 19 months of talks between the two leaders that have produced significant progress on how an envisioned federation will function after an accord is approved in separate votes on both sides of the ethnically divided island.
On Jan. 12, the final day, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders will be joined by Cyprus' three guarantors — Britain, Greece and Turkey — who will be seeking to agree on post-settlement security arrangements. Cavusoglu said the European Union will also be there as a "consultant."
The island was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and keeps 35,000 troops there. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2003, but only the south enjoys membership benefits.
The two sides have been trying to strike an accord for decades, with U.N. support.
Cavusoglu stressed that "if you have the will, if you are ready for the settlement, you can overcome all these issues even though some of them are serious ones."
"For me, the most difficult part is not for us but for two sides in Cyprus and Greece — the public opinion," he said.
"I think the Greeks and Greek Cypriots have more problems there. They need to convince their public," Cavusoglu said. "As Turkey, we don't have that much problem, but everybody has to consider or take into account the concerns, or the opinions, of the Turkish Cypriots as well. It shouldn't be ignored."
Cavusoglu said he was looking forward to having breakfast Friday with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias who is scheduled to meet Guterres at U.N. headquarters in the late afternoon.