NICOSIA, Cyprus – A deal reunifying the ethnically divided Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus can be reached if both sides demonstrate more "flexibility and creativity," Britain's foreign secretary said Wednesday.
With complex peace talks between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots deadlocked, Boris Johnson said Britain stands ready to help.
Cyprus was a British colony until independence in 1960. Britain retained sizeable bases on the island after independence and became one of Cyprus' so-called "guarantor powers" alongside Greece and Turkey.
"I'm convinced that with further flexibility and creativity on both sides a solution can be reached and the remaining difficulties can be overcome," Johnson said in a news conference after separate meetings with the leaders from both sides.
Johnson praised the "determination and courage" Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have shown over 19 months of talks.
Negotiations at the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin hit an impasse last week amid a disagreement over how many people would be eligible to reclaim homes and property in zones each side will control in an envisioned federation.
Anastasiades sought as many as 90,000 Greek Cypriots getting back property in an augmented Greek Cypriot zone after internal administrative boundaries are outlined. Akinci offered a maximum 65,000.
Welcoming progress that the United Nations-facilitated talks have already achieved, Johnson added: "Obviously, as you get toward the conclusion of any negotiation, that's when the hard yards really begin."
A 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece split the island into an internationally recognized, Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Another key sticking point in talks is ceding Turkey the right to militarily intervene and to keep troops on the island under any deal. The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey's as vital for their security, while Greek Cypriots consider them as a threat undermining the island's sovereignty.
Military intervention rights were granted to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus' former colonial ruler Britain under the island's 1960 constitution. The Greek government opposes keeping these rights in place after a peace deal.
Johnson repeated it's up to the two sides to decide what security arrangements they would want once a peace accord is signed, adding: "We're not seeking a specific role for the U.K."
Agreement on territory would lead to a final summit bringing together Greece, Turkey and Britain to decide on security arrangements.
Britain's top diplomat also said that his country's departure from the European Union won't affect ties with Cyprus and that the U.K. will work to "build the strongest possible links" with the island and other EU member states.