The rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus said Sunday more work is needed to prepare the ground for the resumption of stalled reunification talks, despite having their first face-to-face meeting after nearly two months that was hoped would clear the negotiations logjam.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, said in a joint statement that United Nations Envoy Espen Barth Eide would continue contacts with them both to get negotiations back on track.
The leaders said they had an “open and constructive” exchange about what caused the talks to break down on Feb. 16 and shared ideas about moving the process forward.
“The two leaders reconfirmed their joint commitment to finding a solution in the best interest of all Cypriots, taking into account the concerns of both communities,” the joint statement said.
The brief statement came at the end of a highly anticipated dinner hosted by Eide, where it was hoped the two leaders could smooth out their differences and then get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
The four-hour dinner was held at a defunct luxury hotel that now doubles as a U.N. barracks inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone that cuts across the capital, Nicosia. Several dozen supporters greeted the leaders as they arrived.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the breakaway north and keeps more than 35,000 troops there.
After 21 months of solid progress, the talks broke down amid Turkish Cypriot protests over a bill making the commemoration of a 1950 referendum in support of union with Greece mandatory in Greek Cypriot schools. The referendum preceded a four-year guerrilla campaign by the majority Greek Cypriots against British colonial rule before the island gained independence in 1960.
Akinci, who insisted that the Greek Cypriot bid for union was the “root cause” of the island’s problems, said talks could begin only if the legislation is repealed.
Anastasiades said the legislation did not signal a Greek Cypriot deviation from a deal for a federated Cyprus. He said Akinci used the bill as an excuse to walk out of talks amid a hardening of the Turkish Cypriot stance ahead of Turkey’s April 16 referendum on expanding the president’s powers.