By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council threw its weight on Wednesday behind a push by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to clinch a Cyprus deal, urging the rival parties to speed up talks and be more constructive.
Following talks with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Ban last month called them to a summit in January to settle the decades-old conflict on the divided Mediterranean island that is harming Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
Ban expressed optimism then that Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu were on their way to resolving long-standing differences.
In a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus for a further seven months, the Security Council welcomed what it called "encouraging progress ... towards a comprehensive and durable settlement."
It called on the leaders to "intensify the momentum of negotiations, engage in the process in a constructive and open manner, and work on reaching convergences on the remaining core issues" in preparation for the summit near New York.
It also demanded that they "improve the public atmosphere in which the negotiations are proceeding, including by focusing public messages on convergences and the way ahead, and delivering more constructive and harmonized messages."
The United Nations has been trying for years to reunite Cyprus, split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup.
The conflict has bedeviled Turkey's attempts to join the EU, where an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island in the bloc.
The sides agree in principle to unite Cyprus under a federal umbrella. But there are deep disputes on how to co-govern, territorial adjustments between two future constituent states, and the property claims of thousands of internally displaced people.
Ban told a monthly news conference on Wednesday that time for reaching a settlement was "quite limited" since Cyprus' scheduled assumption of the EU presidency next July 1 would make negotiations "politically difficult and sensitive."
A senior Security Council diplomat said the purpose of the resolution was to put pressure on both parties.
"We have enough problems in the world without wasting our time talking about Cyprus, which is a pretty small issue strategically," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified. "Left to their own devices, it's quite clear that both sides would just still be talking in another 25 years."
The diplomat said the aim was to get "bankable progress" before Cyprus took over the EU presidency, with agreement on the main issues and officials left to work out the details.
(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Anthony Boadle)