By Michele Kambas
ATHENS (Reuters) - Attempts to re-unite Cyprus's estranged Greek and Turkish communities are continuing, a United Nations envoy said on Monday, after a failure last week to coax the parties to an international peace conference.
The UN announced on May 26 it was abandoning attempts to bring the sides together at a Geneva summit because they had failed to agree on the agenda of discussions. But in Athens on Monday, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide insisted reunification talks had not collapsed.
"It is important to underline ... we are in no way giving up on the Cyprus talks," Eide told Reuters.
Those were the first comments since Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister, said his "shuttle diplomacy" bid had fallen through on a new summit, after an inconclusive one in January.
He had been trying to get estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriots to move talks to Switzerland, where the two sides - along with Britain, Turkey and Greece - would discuss withdrawing troops and relinquishing claims to the island stemming from a 1960 treaty. The two sides disagreed on the format of negotiations.
"We were almost there, but then we weren't there and at some point I said this particular effort is futile and I didn’t find common ground," Eide said.
"We are still hoping something will work," he said. Asked what would happen if the sides continued to disagree, he said: "I don't know ... We are doing everything we can to help."
Eide has been overseeing two years of talks between Cypriot President and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup, but the seeds of division were sowed years earlier, prompting the dispatch of a United Nations peacekeeping force in 1964.
Diplomats have repeatedly said the two have come closer to a deal on power-sharing that would end the decades of conflict keeping Greece and Turkey at loggerheads and be a model of co-existence in an otherwise volatile part of the world.
But despite progress, trust was something the sides needed to work on, Eide said.
"I have increasingly become more worried about the sentiment part of it than the substance part of it," he said. "A marriage is not only about the technical arrangements of buying a house together. It needs to (address) the emotional part."
He was in Athens, and would later go to Ankara, for further discussions with the Greek and Turkish governments on security arrangements on the island, if the Geneva conference were to go ahead, he said.
Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom are guarantor powers of Cyprus under a treaty granting the former British colony independence in 1960. Greek Cypriots want the system dismantled, Turkish Cypriots want it retained.