Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu (Photo: Reuters)
Talks between Demetris Christofias, the head of the internationally recognised Greek-Cypriot government, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu began on Sunday and were expected to go on most of Monday, UN sources said.
Alexander Downer, the UN secretary general's special adviser on Cyprus, gave an upbeat assessment of progress. "These discussions have been positive, productive and vigorous from our point of view," he told reporters. "The United Nations is pleased with the way it is going."
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday called for the two leaders to "seize the opportunity" to reach agreement, adding that he expected "tangible results" from the New York meeting.
The United Nations secretary general had said after a meeting in July with Christofias and Eroglu that he expected to see major progress by October. But the talks, which began in September 2008, have so far failed to live up to international hopes. The key sticking points have included territorial adjustments, security arrangements and property rights.
Regional tensions have also been rising since the Greek Cypriot government, made a deal with US energy firm Noble for exploratory drilling for gas off the southern coast of the divided Mediterranean island.
Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot government, says they had no right to conduct an offshore energy search while the island remains split. It responded by signing an accord with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a statelet only recognized by Ankara, to explore gas and oil supplies off the island.
The United Nations is worried that the energy row -- which also involves Greece and Israel -- could derail Cyprus peace talks that are faltering after three years of painstaking negotiations. The island has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.
The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey, whereas the republic of Cyprus became a full member of the European Union in 2004. Cyprus President Christofias has said the ideal target date for a solution would be before Cyprus takes on the EU presidency in July 2012.
But Turkey has threatened to freeze its ties with the EU, which it wants to join, if Cyprus takes the rotating presidency of the bloc as scheduled next year.