UN envoy upbeat suspended Cyprus reunification talks could resume soon as gas row ebbs

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — A U.N. envoy said Tuesday that he sees an opportunity to resume suspended talks to reunify ethnically-divided Cyprus amid signs that a clash over an offshore natural gas search may be ebbing.

Espen Barth Eide said that developments over search for hydrocarbons off the east Mediterranean island could create "a climate where talks can continue."

"I think there is a growing sense that the circumstances that led to the suspension of the talks may soon be over," Eide said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

The envoy said the low gas prices and disappointing drilling results may push diplomacy ahead of the hydrocarbons search.

Eide's comments are in stark contrast to his previous visit in January when he said talks were "moving in the wrong direction."

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains about 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.

Anastasiades suspended talks in October last year after Turkey launched a search for natural gas in waters where the Cypriot government licensed other companies to drill, calling the move a serious breach of the country's sovereign rights.

Turkey says a unilateral gas search by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriots can't stand because it disregards the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides struck a more reserved tone, saying Tuesday that a return to talks depends on Turkey "tangibly demonstrating" it wants that to happen. He said Turkey mustn't renew a gas search notice that's due to expire next month and should withdraw its research vessel that's now docked in the north.

An Italian-South Korean consortium is now drilling off Cyprus, while the island is now looking to sell gas to neighboring Egypt from its one proven deposit that's estimated to hold around 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

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