Cyprus says could be close to peace talks breakthrough

NICOSIA Wed Feb 5, 2014 8:52am EST

1 of 2. A man sits on a bench on Ledra Street, near a pedestrian crossing between Cyprus and its Turkish-controlled north, in Nicosia March 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus said on Wednesday it was close to reviving stalled peace talks between the island's Greek and Turkish communities who have been locked in a festering, decades-old conflict that is harming Turkey's hopes of joining the EU.

The United Nations has been toiling for months on the wording of a 'joint statement' to restart negotiations between the island's two dominant groups that broke off in mid-2012.

"Important consultations are underway related to drafting a final and substantive joint statement," said Christos Stylianides, spokesman for Cyprus's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.

He said Cypriot President Nicos Anastassiades would be briefing political parties on Thursday and have consultations with the Greek government on Friday.

The consultations were in a "delicate phase", Stylianides said, but he declined to be more specific. "On Cyprus, things can be so close yet so far. A word can make all the difference."

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived estranged for decades. A power-sharing government crumbled soon after independence from Britain in 1960 and a Turkish military invasion in 1974 split the island in two.

Greek Cypriots represent Cyprus in the EU, giving them a veto right over Turkey's aspirations of joining the bloc.

Negotiations have repeatedly stumbled on issues ranging from power sharing to redrawing territorial boundaries, as well as property claims of tens of thousands of displaced persons.

Greek Cypriots are insisting on a joint statement to outline the basic principles of any peace deal, hoping to avoid past pitfalls which have dogged talks.

The conflict has come into sharper focus since the discovery, first by Israel and then by Cyprus, of vast deposits of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey, which lies north of Cyprus, contests the island's attempts to tap its offshore wealth. Cyprus says it is within its rights.

Underscoring tensions, a Turkish warship ordered a Norwegian research ship out of territory south of Cyprus on February 1, saying it was its own maritime zone.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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