GENEVA - An international conference on the reunification of Cyprus has opened with a sense of "cautious optimism" that an agreement, which has eluded the divided Mediterranean island for more than four decades, can finally be achieved.
Newly appointed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in Geneva on Thursday in an effort to reach a deal.
"It is my hope that there will be a breakthrough and I think that is what the people of Cyprus deserve, and I think that it is also what the world needs today,” Guterres said. “We are facing so many situations of disaster. We badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe that Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017 in the world."
Guterres, however, lowered expectations of a quick fix.
Watch: UN Says Cypriot Leaders Close to Reunification Deal
"You cannot expect miracles or immediate solutions. We are not looking for a quick fix. We are looking for a solid and sustainable solution for the Republic of Cyprus and for the communities of the Republic of Cyprus," he told reporters during a break in the talks.
The top diplomats from Britain, Greece and Turkey joined the U.N.-hosted talks, marking the first time they have discussed security issues with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. Security guarantees are a crucial element in ensuring a peaceful, stable settlement.
Guterres said many proposals were offered Thursday, including ones that address the central questions that have been holding up a final agreement for so many years — territory, property rights and relations with the European Union.
"Enormous progress was made in all those dossiers,” he said. “So, we are coming very close to what is the settlement in relation to the creation of a bi-zonal, bi-community federal institution in the Republic of Cyprus. We are coming very close to it."
Another difficult issue is Turkey's demand that it be allowed to keep Turkish troops on Cyprus, which Greek Cypriots regard as a threat.
But in an unprecedented sign of major progress, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders exchanged maps Wednesday showing proposed borders including land the Turkish side has agreed to give back to the Greek side.
Cyprus has been split between a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded the island after a military coup aimed at reunifying Cyprus with Greece.
Only Turkey recognizes a separate Turkish Cypriot government.
The U.N. hopes to create a single Cypriot nation that would become a full European Union member. Only the Greek Cypriot south enjoys EU benefits.
Guterres says he expects talks to resume next week, adding that any agreement must be ratified through a referendum by the divided Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities before reunification becomes a reality.
VOA’s Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.