NICOSIA, May 23 (Xinhua) - The United States Vice President Joe Biden said in remarks bringing a two-day visit to Cyprus to a conclusion that Cypriot leaders had agreed to speed up peace negotiations.
Flanked by President Anastasiades, who is also the leader of the Greek Cypriot community, and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, Biden told journalist close to midnight on Thursday that a solution could be within reach to a dispute that has kept the eastern Mediterranean island divided for about four decades.
Cyprus was partitioned when Turkey militarily intervened in its northern part in 1974 reacting to a coup inspired by the military junta which ruled Greece at the time.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots resumed negotiations in February aimed at reunifying the island.
Biden said after hosting a dinner for Anastasiades and Eroglu that they decided to meet twice a month starting next week to review progress made by their representatives in their weekly negotiating sessions.
Biden said that in his talks with the two leaders he had detected some common ground, but also differences which he thought could be bridged.
"I do not believe they are irreconcilable differences. There is clearly a lot of work to be done but what I am hearing gives me hope a solution is within reach this time".
Biden pledged that the U.S. "will engage with all stakeholders to explore mutually beneficial initiatives to reinforce settlement negotiations".
He called on the two leaders to discuss applying confidence building measures, including the return of a fenced off city occupied by Turkish troops in 1974. He said that if the two sides were to agree on this the United States stood ready to assist on the implementation in the way of financing the project.
American interest in a Cyprus solution has been revived following the discovery of considerable natural gas reserves in Cyprus marine exclusive economic zone.
The importance of the gas discovery has been amplified by the Ukraine crisis in the sense that the United States envisages a new energy source for Europe which now relies heavily on Russian gas.
Biden said a peace solution would render what he called the strategic relationship between the United States and Cyprus even more significant.
Cypriot Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, who took part in the talks with Biden, said on Friday the United States now consider Cyprus not only as an alternative source of energy supply but also as an alternative energy route.
Among possible plans under consideration are the building of a natural gas liquefaction plant on Cyprus to supply gas to Europe and Asia and also a marine pipe to send Cypriot and Israeli gas to Europe via Greece.