Published Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 | 6:17 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 | 6:21 p.m.
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The leaders of Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities embarked Tuesday on a new round of talks aimed at achieving the long-elusive goal of reunifying the ethnically split island nation.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Dervis Eroglu met inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone that slices through the capital, Nicosia, to herald the restart of talks after a 20-month stalemate.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming for union with Greece. Only the internationally recognized, Greek Cypriot-dominated south enjoys the benefits of the island's 2004 European Union entry.
Talks resumed after the two leaders agreed on a document outlining key provisions of an envisioned federation.
It's a different approach from previous talks, one that Anastasiades insisted was necessary to prevent talks from dragging on without results like so many earlier rounds of negotiations over the last four decades.
"Today's joint statement outlines the basic principles for a solution... (it) is not the final accord but the beginning of an arduous effort in order to reach the desired goals," Anastasiades told reporters.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council welcomed the joint communique and the relaunch of negotiations.
The council expressed hope "that the leaders will take advantage of this opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement" and said it "looks forward to substantive progress in the negotiations as soon as possible." It underlined "the benefits that reunification will bring to the island."
Ban said the United Nations will continue to support the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots "in their efforts to reunify the island and move on from decades of separation."
The White House hailed the leaders' "courage and vision" on forging the declaration and echoed top EU officials who said it laid "a solid foundation" for achieving peace. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged the world body's "resolute commitment" to the talks.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country's troubled EU membership bid is further hobbled by the Cyprus dispute, expressed hope the talks take "no backward steps."
Bailed-out Cyprus would stand to benefit from a peace agreement. The allure of new-found offshore gas deposits could also spur talks.
However, Anastasiades faces strong domestic pressure from critics who say the document contains the seeds of possible Turkish Cypriot statehood, which could unravel any peace accord.