With a symbolic handshake at the World Economic Forum (WEF), the leaders of Cyprus pledged their commitment to reach a settlement to reunite the divided Mediterranean island this year and appealed for international financial support.
Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci made an unprecedented joint appearance before global business and political leaders in Davos to proclaim their aim to build a peace bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
"At a time when Europe is enduring a deep crisis, primarily linked to the tragic events unfolding in Cyprus’ immediate neighbourhood, myself and Mustafa are working tirelessly to reunify our country," Anastasiades said.
He called for a substantial financial contribution from the international community to finance a solution for Cyprus.
Both leaders stressed that they had not yet concluded a deal and that difficult issues remained over territory, property and compensation, but both said they were working for an agreement in 2016.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops secured the northern part of the island as a safe haven for Turkish Cypriots within the scope of a military intervention in response to a coup by the ruling junta in Greece the intention of which was to unite Cyprus with Greece.
Although Turkey’s intervention was undertaken in accordance with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee granting Turkey, Greece and Britain allowing each country to intervene under such circumstances, the intervention was condemned by the international community.
Failed attempts to re-establish a Republic of Cyprus that would be inclusive of Turkish Cypriots failed, so in 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), but their state did not gain international recognition.
At the Davos conference, Akinci said he and Anastasiades were of the same generation and represented the last chance to reunite the island. The generation born after them knew only division.
Energy cooperation based on recent offshore gas discoveries off Cyprus could provide a crucial incentive to reach a deal, he said.
The discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) breathed new life into talks at the beginning of 2014 following a two-year pause, with both sides as well as the international community encouraging a solution.
Talks were briefly broken off again following due to disagreements regarding the exploration of hydrocarbons off the island’s shores, but resumed in May have been progressing ever since.
"With this solution, newly found hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean will act as a source of peace and cooperation rather than conflict and tension," Akinci said.
In a concerted international drive to support the peace process, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted a lunch with the two leaders and US Vice President Joe Biden also met them to offer his backing.
A diplomatic source in New York said the UN special envoy for Cyprus, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, had told the Security Council in a closed session last week that 90 percent of a Cyprus deal was done but the last 10 percent remaining was the most difficult.
In an interview with Reuters at Davos, Anastasiades said a settlement would require billions of euros in international aid to help resolve property issues and that he hoped Britain would return some of the land it has on Cyprus that houses sovereign military bases.
This is the closest Cyprus has come to deal since efforts led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan in 2004 failed when the majority of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification in a referendum conducted on both sides of the island.
Despite Turkish Cypriot approval of the plan in 2004, the TRNC did not receive any recognition while the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot administration was granted EU membership.