|The U.N. Security Council welcomed last month's agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to start talks and expressed hope they will lead to the reunification of the divided island as Greek and Turkish Cypriot working groups began talks on Friday to prepare for direct negotiations of the leaders. Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias will meet socially in Nicosia on May 7, Turkish Cypriot authorities said on Thursday. (UPDATED)
A statement approved on Thursday by consensus of the 15-member council also welcomed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's readiness to assist the parties to end the division of the Mediterranean island.
"The whole council has been encouraged by recent developments," Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers said. "The signs are positive here that we can actually make progress on this and we will do everything we can to achieve that."
"Of course, theres a lot of work still to be done," Sawers said. "A solution to the division of Cyprus has eluded us for four decades, but there is a real opportunity now to take this forward and we in the United Nations Security Council, and the United Nations Secretariat and the secretary-general will do all we can to take this forward and to seize this particular opportunity.
Council members reaffirmed their commitment "to the reunification of Cyprus based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation and political equality."
The council said it is encouraged by the launch of the working groups and technical committees "that will prepare the ground for the start of fully fledged negotiations, in a spirit of good faith, on a comprehensive and durable settlement."
"The Security Council looks forward to the results of this preparatory process within the three-month timeline agreed by the two leaders, which it is hoped will build trust, momentum and a sense of common interest in the search for a just and lasting solution," the council said.
WORKING GROUPS MEET
Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators met at the U.N. compound in Nicosia on Friday for the first time in four years to lay the groundwork for reunification talks between the divided island's leaders.
"We have heard and said much about the current climate of optimism in Cyprus at the renewed hope for progress in the peace process. As you look at the heads of the working groups and technical committees you see the reason for this optimism," Elizabeth Spehar, acting head of the United Nations mission in Cyprus, was quoted as saying by AFP.
"We hope concrete results can be achieved through this process over the coming weeks that provides a solid basis for the two leaders to move forward," she added.
"You should regard your opposite number not in a confrontational spirit, but as fellow-workers with a common cause," Greek Cypriot chief negotiator George Iacovou was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Addressing the team leaders, Iacovou's Turkish Cypriot counterpart Ozdil Nami agreed: "We have to change our ways, and have to start thinking as a team and not as rivals. Getting emotional, angry or intransigent will be luxuries we cannot afford to have."
Six working groups are to deal with power-sharing, EU matters, security, territory, property and economic matters. The technical committees will embrace "softer" everyday concerns linked to crime, commerce, cultural heritage, crisis management, humanitarian matters, health and environment.
Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders agreed on March 21 to re-open the Ledra crossing in a gesture of goodwill, and restart peace negotiations in three months. In a symbolic move a key crossing point was opened in the capital Nicosia at the beginning of the month.
Talat and Chritofias will have a meeting in Nicosia on May 7, Turkish Cypriot authorities said on Thursday. The meeting will be a social organization, and representatives of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot political parties are also expected to attend the reception to begin at 7 p.m. (GMT 1600) at the Ledra Palace Hotel.
TALAT MEETS TITOV
Talat held a brief meeting with Russias Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov on Friday in his Nicosia office. "The window of opportunities for a settlement in Cyprus is now open, and the (settlement) process has sped up," Titov told Anatolian Agency reporters after the meeting.
Titov said all parties should be involved in the process if a long-term solution was desired on the island. The Russian diplomat said he hoped those developments would pave the way for new accomplishments, defining Friday's meeting of Turkish and Greek Cypriot working groups and committees as positive.
The Russian foreign minister had held an earlier meeting with Christofias.
Last week during his meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Athens before his visit to the island, Titov had said Moscow would try to be as supportive as possible, describing the island's division as "one of the most important issues in the region."