Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Friday he is hopeful a U.N. plan for reuniting the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in time to enter the European Union in May will be successful.
Mr. Gul spoke after the leaders of both communities announced an agreement in New York to resume U.N.-sponsored talks and hold referenda on both sides of the island in April.
Foreign Minister Gul told a news conference that Friday's agreement in New York proves to the whole world that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots are sincere in their desire to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old Cyprus problem.
Mr. Gul noted that reaching a lasting settlement will not be easy. But he said he is hopeful that the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders will reach an agreement by May 1. That is when the European Union will grant full membership to 10 countries, including Cyprus.
EU leaders have made clear that they will allow the Greek Cypriot south of the island to join, even if a deal is not reached. And European leaders have also repeatedly warned that failure to re-unite the island could have an impact on Turkey's own chances of opening membership negotiations with the EU.
Analysts say Turkey's decision to persuade veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to agree to resume talks on the basis of the latest U.N. plan is rooted in Turkey's desire to be given a date for the membership talks to start when European leaders meet for their last summit of the year in December.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in the wake of an abortive coup attempt by Greek Cypriot nationalists, aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Under the terms of the U.N. plan, some 35-thousand Turkish troops on the island would gradually withdraw, which could lead to the establishment of a loose federation of the Turkish and Greek communities on Cyprus.