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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for the Conference on Cyprus at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

(reuters_tickers)

By Michele Kambas and Tulay Karadeniz

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned against any "quick fix" in Geneva talks to forge a security deal for a reunited Cyprus on Thursday as the foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey joined the efforts.

The east Mediterranean island has been partitioned between ethnic Turks and Greeks since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded in response to an abortive Athens-inspired coup aimed at union with Greece. An accord has eluded generations of diplomats and NATO allies Greece and Turkey have come at times to the brink of war over Cyprus, a former British colony.

The three foreign ministers discussed their guarantor roles established by a 1960 post-independence treaty.

Greek Cypriots want the guarantor system dismantled because of Turkey's 1974 invasion. Turkish Cypriots, targeted by Greek Cypriot nationalists before the war and after the breakdown of a post-independence power-sharing arrangement, want it maintained. Several hours after the start of the session where diplomats huddled in bilaterals, there was little progress to speak of.

Flanked by Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, respective leaders of the island's Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Guterres said the reunification talks had "obviously a way to go".

"You cannot expect miracles ... (an) immediate solution. We are not looking for a quick fix, we are looking for a solid and sustainable solution for the Republic of Cyprus and for the communities of the Republic of Cyprus," Guterres said.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said the sides might issue a statement later on Thursday setting up working groups and a new meeting of foreign ministers may be held on Jan. 23.

It is Guterres's first major involvement in a conflict which has been on the world body's agenda for more than half a century and hosts one of the world's longest-serving peacekeeping forces.

In a 2004 referendum, a U.N. reunification blueprint was approved by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots, whose southern state is a member of the European Union.

Recent hydrocarbon discoveries off Cyprus's shores could help the EU reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a united Cyprus would be fully integrated into the EU, EU officials said on condition of anonymity. Turkish northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, currently has no link with Brussels.

He also pledged financial help if a deal is agreed, although he conceded it was a difficult process that would take time.

SECURITY

Diplomats believe moderates Anastasiades and Akinci represent the best chance in years to reunite the country. But there are obstacles ranging from property grievances of thousands uprooted in conflict to more practical difficulties associated with power-sharing and security.

The Turkish side referred to turmoil in the nearby Middle Eastern region.

"Continuing the security and guarantor arrangements, which have been the basis of security and stability on the island for the last 43 years, is a necessity given the situation in the region," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there was a "unique opportunity" to find a settlement.

"The fact that we have got this far is a real tribute to the courage and the determination of the leaders of the Greek Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriot community," he said in a post on social media.

"The most important thing clearly is that both communities should feel secure about their futures and that is what the British government is here to help with."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras could join the talks if there are prospects for a solution, his spokesman said in Athens.

In a groundbreaking move on Wednesday, the sides submitted proposals on how to define the post-settlement boundaries. Under the proposals, Turkish Cypriots would retain between 28.2 and 29.2 percent of total Cypriot territory, down from about 36 percent now.

Britain, the former colonial power in Cyprus, has offered as part of any final peace deal to relinquish about half of the 98 square miles it still administers - equivalent to 3 percent of total Cypriot territory.

One of Britain's two bases in Cyprus, Akrotiri, is a Royal Air Force outpost which has been instrumental in attacking Islamic State targets in Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Malta and by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Reuters