UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Turkish Cypriot leader said Monday that a settlement of the 40-year-old conflict that divided the Mediterranean island is possible this year.
Dervis Eroglu told reporters after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that negotiations with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on reunifying Cyprus, which resumed in February after a 20-month stalemate, could produce results.
Cyprus 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.
Talks resumed in February after the two leaders took a different approach and agreed on a document outlining key provisions of an envisioned federation.
"Our target remains ... the settlement of the Cyprus problem in the shortest possible time," Eroglu said. "We have the support of the secretary-general in this regard. He has been encouraging the both sides."
The Turkish Cypriot leader said the current negotiations are aimed at bridging the remaining gaps between the two sides.
"We'll try to bridge our differences and find a comprehensive settlement in the shortest possible time," Eroglu said. "we said a settlement is possible within this year. We can finalize a settlement, and take it to ... separate simultaneous referenda, in 2014."
Secretary-General Ban encouraged Eroglu, together with Anastasiades, "to maintain the current momentum in the talks" and reaffirmed the U.N. commitment to assist the two sides to reach a comprehensive settlement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday night.
Outgoing U.N. envoy Alexander Downer told a farewell news conference on March 27 that Cyprus' bailout and economic problems could bolster the chances of a peace accord.
He said the country's shrunken economy and high unemployment could get people to focus on the benefits an agreement would bring, such as a potential increase in foreign investment and a tourism influx.
There's "positive momentum" in the talks, Downer said, and a "deal can be done."