* Biden insists differences in Cyprus not irreconcilable
* Says two sides have agreed to speed up peace talks
* Energy finds spur U.S. interest
(Releads, adds detail)
By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA, May 22 U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
said on Thursday rival leaders in divided Cyprus had agreed to
speed up slow-moving peace talks to heal one of Europe's most
Biden, the most senior U.S. official to visit the island in
more than half a century, said he hoped a solution could be "in
reach" to a dispute that for decades has kept Greece and Turkey
at loggerheads and their ethnic kin in Cyprus estranged.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots re-launched peace talks in
February, in the latest of a long string of efforts to heal the
wounds of a conflict that saw a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a
brief Greek-inspired coup and the division of the eastern
Biden, who hosted a dinner for Cypriot President and Greek
Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader
Dervis Eroglu, said he had seen "common ground" in peace talks,
but also differences.
"But I do not believe they are irreconcilable differences.
There is clearly a lot of work to be done but what I am hearing
gives me hope a solution is within reach this time," he told
reporters against the backdrop of a crumbling hotel straddling a
United Nations-controlled buffer zone bisecting the capital
Before the Cyprus conflict, the Ledra Palace hotel hosted
Hollywood stars. Now the imposing sandstone building, still
pockmarked with bullet holes, is used as living quarters for UN
The Cyprus issue has been given a new dimension by the
discovery of natural gas under the sea between Cyprus and
Israel, and the significance of the find amplified by the
Ukraine crisis and the impact that could have on Russian gas
supplies to Europe.
Talking to civil society leaders earlier, Biden said he was
convinced Cyprus could "punch well above its weight".
"The possibilities are staggering for this island," he said.
Biden said Eroglu and Anastasiades had agreed to increase
the frequency of their meetings to twice a month, and intensify
work on preparing "meaningful" confidence-building measures.
"President Obama and I believe that Cyprus is a key partner
in a challenging region. And we know it can be an even stronger
partner if the next generation of Cypriots can grow up without
the burden of conflict," he said.
The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state is recognised only by
Ankara. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally
recognised as representing the whole island, and represents
Cyprus in the European Union, where it has veto rights on the
aspirations of Turkey to join the bloc.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Roche)