Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish leaders started new peace talks Wednesday and said they hoped for a deal soon aimed at reuniting an island divided by war 34 years ago.
Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias met for two hours with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat inside the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that separates the two communities.
The leaders emerged from the talks to express confidence they will reach a settlement. They will meet again on Sept. 11, U.N. officials said.
"We will try our utmost to achieve (a settlement) as soon as possible. I could not guarantee, nor Talat could guarantee, that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," Christofias said. "This is a common will, a common desire, and we shall make common efforts."
Talat said he hoped agreement could be reached by the end of the year. He denied that Turkey, a guarantor of the island's 1960 independence agreement, was poised to block any concessions in the negotiations.
"We are in favor of a solution and Ankara is supporting us," Talat said.
"That's why after four years of stalemate ... we are confident that we will succeed in concluding (a) comprehensive agreement," Talat said.
Cyprus _ an island of fewer than a million inhabitants _ has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
Turkey keeps 35,000 troops in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, and a small number of Greek troops are stationed in the south. The island was ruled by Britain until 1960. Turkey and Britain are also guarantors of the independence agreement.
Past efforts to reach a settlement have been scuttled by disagreement on issues including power-sharing, property rights for Greek Cypriot refugees and the nature of a future federation.
The last attempt collapsed in 2004 when Turkish Cypriots backed a U.N. settlement plan that Greek Cypriot voters rejected. Cyprus joined the European Union that year as a divided island with Turkish Cypriots denied the bloc's membership benefits.
But prospects of progress were raised by repeated commitments made by Christofias and Talat toward finding a solution. Talat on Wednesday insisted differences between the two sides were "not insurmountable."
Special United Nations envoy Alexander Downer said the two Cypriot leaders had to persuade their communities that a solution would benefit both sides.
"The negotiations which you begin today can and must have a successful outcome," said Downer, a former Australian foreign minister.
"You own this process and, as a result, your continuing leadership is a critical element to make it succeed."
Associated Press Television producer Theodora Tongas contributed to this report
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