NICOSIA, CYPRUS - A deal to end the partition of Cyprus, one of Europe's most enduring conflicts, is closer than ever and could be clinched by the end of this year, a senior U.N. envoy said Tuesday.
Rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are slated to meet at a Swiss resort for talks November 7-11 to pave the way for greater convergence between two sides, split since a brief Greek coup and ensuing Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
"We are way ahead of what has ever happened before," said Espen Barth Eide, special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Swiss meeting will focus on proposed territorial trade-offs but will not be a make-or-break affair resulting in a fully fledged agreement, the Norwegian diplomat said at a conference.
Ban was due to be present at negotiations starting in the resort of Mont Pelerin on Monday in the presence of President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, both seen as moderates.
"No negotiations on Cyprus have come close to the level we are at now," Eide said of past peace efforts.
Cyprus has been split for 42 years, but for many years preceding the break there was intercommunal strife that led Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves.
Talks are focused on reuniting Cyprus as a loose federation of two constituent, largely self-governing states. That is very likely to entail moving a cease-fire line boundary now cleaving Cyprus east to west, and will be tackled in next week's talks.
But other matters such as security issues will need input from Turkey, and they are expected to be addressed after the territorial issue is worked out.
Ioannis Kasoulides, foreign minister of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus comprising the southern two-thirds of the island, said the quality of a peace deal, rather than its timing, was crucial.
Alluding to one of several outstanding issues, that of Turkey's intervention rights over Cyprus under a 1960 constitution that Greek Cypriots demand be scrapped, Kasoulides said: "Definitely the time has come for Cyprus to be a fully independent and sovereign country."
Up to 30,000 Turkish troops remain in northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognized only by Ankara.
Eide, who has presided over dozens of sessions involving Anastasiades and Akinci since the latter's election in 2015, said "practically every meeting" had yielded more convergence.
"It is possible to arrive at a comprehensive political settlement [by the end of the year], but we have to use every single day from now on to maximum effect to do so," Eide said at the conference in Cyprus's divided capital, Nicosia.
Since Sunday, Nicosia has been partitioned not just by the cease-fire line monitored by U.N. peacekeepers but by time. Northern Cyprus is one hour ahead of the south, after Turkish Cypriot authorities decided to follow Ankara's cue and stick to daylight-saving hours on October 30.