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US welcomes moves to end division of Cyprus

A handout picture released on November 25, 2013 by the Cypriot Press and Information Office (PIO) shows Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (L) shaking hands with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu (R)
A handout picture released on November 25, 2013 by the Cypriot Press and Information Office (PIO) shows Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (L) shaking hands with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu (R)

The United States Tuesday welcomed the relaunch of peace talks between Greek- and Turkish Cypriot leaders, and vowed to work to with both sides to try to reach an accord.

The US administration also pledged to help revitalize the region around Famagusta, long a ghost town after Greek Cypriots fled the city four decades ago.

White House spokesman Jay Carney praised Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu for their "courage and vision" in reaching a joint statement "which embodies key principles to guide their further work,"

Carney also praised a package "of bold and innovative confidence-building measures" put forward by Anastasiades, who met Eroglu in the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the capital, Nicosia.

"The United States will engage in diplomacy with all stakeholders to explore possible initiatives to reinforce settlement negotiations, including measures aimed at the future revitalization of the Famagusta region, when agreed by the two communities," Carney said in a statement.

Once the second city of the Mediterranean island, the Greek Cypriots fled when Turkish military forces invaded in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting the country with Greece. The island has remained divided ever since.

And Famagusta's once-popular golden beach resort of Varosha remains fenced off in a UN-protected area.

A breakaway state declared by Turkish Cypriot leaders in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara.

Negotiators are to meet later this week to push the process forward with the aim of reaching an agreement "as soon as possible."

The talks came just after the top US diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, visited Cyprus last week.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 after Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint that was approved by Turkish Cypriots.

But the island's untapped offshore gas and oil riches and a huge natural gas find in waters off neighboring Israel have changed the region's dynamics.

Carney stressed Washington believed "the island's oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement."

It remained unclear whether US Secretary of State John Kerry would also become involved, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "There's no challenging issue he doesn't like to get his teeth into.

"We'll see what time he has and whether there's an appropriate supportive role he could play," she said, while stressing it was a UN-led process.

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