Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said he has “guarded optimism” that a UN-brokered peace process could end four decades of division on the ethnically split east Mediterranean island.
“We need guarded optimism ... I don’t want to appear pessimistic, but there is hard work to be done,” he said.
Anastasiades was addressing a televised news conference late on Wednesday to elaborate on a joint communique he and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu issued on Tuesday relaunching peace talks after a nearly two-year hiatus.
He said the joint communique does not aim to scrap the Cyprus republic but instead see it transformed under a federal roof.
Greek Cypriot critics say the negotiations would lead to a two-state solution through the back door.
Anastasiades and Eroglu in the statement agreed that a settlement would be based on a “bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality ... with constituent Greek and Turkish Cypriot states”.
Turkish Cypriots suspended the last round of talks in mid-2012 when Anastasiades’s internationally-recognised government assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency.
Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.
A breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 is recognised only by Ankara, which is itself a candidate for EU membership.
The joint declaration was finalised last week after protracted haggling over the text delayed a relaunch of talks originally set for November.
Anastasiades, addressing Turkish Cypriots during the news conference, said: “I would like to reaffirm my honest intention and desire for a solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible.”
He said confidence-building measures would be introduced to help the process.
The resumption of talks was delayed by the euro zone debt crisis, which forced Nicosia to secure a bailout last March, plunging the already struggling country deeper into recession.
Anastasiades said he had waited for the financial crisis to subside before pursuing the talks because a “country weakened financially is vulnerable to pressure and blackmail”.
He said that since coming to power almost a year ago he had purposely “improved and deepened” ties with key international players, the United States, Britain and Israel.
Active interest from Washington had helped to end the stalemate.
Negotiators from the two sides will reportedly meet on Friday to discuss the agenda of the talks and how they will proceed.
Hubert Faustmann, associate professor of history and political science at Nicosia University, said the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits off Cyprus had given new impetus to talks that have dragged on for decades.
“This is the best chance for peace since 2004 because of oil and gas,” Faustmann said.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 after Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint that was approved by Turkish Cypriots.
“Washington has put so much weight behind this latest peace effort because oil and gas is a game changer in the wider context,” Faustmann said.
“It’s a win-win situation for all.”