Cyprus is closer than ever to ending a four-decade partition and its Turkish and Greek sides could agree the text of a deal by May followed by a referendum, the Turkish Cypriot official responsible for foreign relations said.
The island's Greek and Turkish communities have lived estranged since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north after a brief Greek-inspired coup, though the seeds of partition were sown soon after independence from Britain in 1960.
"We are cautiously optimistic. We think we are closer than we have ever been before," the self-styled Turkish Cypriot foreign minister Emine Colak told Reuters in an interview.
"We don’t think the Cyprus problem has got easy – it hasn’t but we think we have a window of opportunity.
"It is possible and it is desirable to get to at least the major part of the negotiations and the agreed text by May 2016.”
She added that it would be "a good thing" to postpone Greek Cypriot elections planned for May 2016 to ease the negotiating process.
The breakaway state in the island's north is recognized only by Turkey.
Asked if there could be a referendum on unification in early 2016, Colak said: "I wouldn’t think early 2016 but maybe within 2016 – I don’t see any reason why not."
The frozen conflict has been a permanent fixture on UN Security Council agendas for at least half a century, and Cyprus hosts one of the world's oldest peacekeeping forces, monitoring a 180-kilometre (110-mile) ceasefire line that slices through the eastern Mediterranean island.
Cyprus's partition is a continuing source of tension between Greece and Turkey and an obstacle to Turkey's decades-old ambition to join the European Union. [Reuters]