April 7, 2015 / 12:08 PM / in 3 years

U.N. Cyprus envoy says sees no obstacle to new peace talks

NICOSIA (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy for ethnically split Cyprus said on Tuesday he expected stalled peace talks to resume “within weeks”, following a six-month suspension in a dispute over offshore gas reserves.

Norwegian diplomat Espen Barth Eide said he had met Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders earlier on Tuesday, and they both agreed the “circumstances were now right” for the resumption of negotiations.

“I see no obstacle to a very early resumption of talks once the election process in the north of Cyprus is done,” said Eide, who oversees the Cyprus peace process for the United Nations.

Northern Cyprus, a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, holds presidential elections on April 19. Their leader is mandated to conduct peace talks with Greek Cypriots.

Greek Cypriots suspended their participation in peace talks last October, furious at moves by Turkey to send research ships into areas Nicosia had licensed for offshore oil and gas exploration.

A maritime advisory for seismic research Turkey issued over the area expired on April 6, and companies licensed by Cyprus have ceased drilling for gas after coming up empty.

“The stated reason why talks could not happen are gone, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Eide, speaking to reporters at Nicosia airport, a protected compound in a ‘buffer zone’ splitting the sides and headquarters to one of the world’s oldest U.N. peacekeeping missions worldwide.

Speaking on what was once an airport apron, with the bullet-riddled, paddlocked airport terminal in the distance, Eide added: “This problem is perfectly solveable.”

Turkey, and by extension the Turkish Cypriots it supports in breakaway north Cyprus, do not recognize Cypriot sovereignty and say any natural resources should be equitably shared by both communities. Cyprus discovered natural gas in the sea to its south in late 2011, but recent drilling elsewhere by Total and Eni.SPA did not discover further recoverable reserves.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup. The stated aim of the talks is to achieve the reunification of Cyprus.

Eide is the latest in a small army of mediators who have attempted to make headway, but failed. Twenty-four have preceded him, and Eide said he hoped he would be the last.

“I think I will be the last one, but for a good reason,” he said, referring to settlement prospects. “There is of course the alternative, that the international community gives up.”

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Larry King

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