NICOSIA (AFP) – The United States will support businesses in breakaway northern Cyprus in a bid to ease the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation and boost efforts to reunify the island, the US ambassador said yesterday. The assistance program is part of a $30.5 million (23.7 million euro) aid package that Washington earmarked for the Turkish Cypriots last year as a reward for the strong «yes» vote they gave to a UN reunification plan in April, Ambassador Michael Klosson told a news conference. The island’s Greek-Cypriot majority rejected the blueprint in a simultaneous referendum, ensuring that a divided island joined the European Union on May 1 and leaving Turkish Cypriots without the full benefits of membership. «Closing the economic gap between the sides will help pave the way toward a sustainable settlement,» Klosson said. Under the program, the US will provide expertise and technical assistance to Turkish-Cypriot entrepreneurs to help them find new markets and identify new business opportunities, he said. «We also plan to focus significant attention on improving the banking, financial, regulatory and other realities businesses face. «We plan to work with the banks and business community to help ensure that credit is readily available to small and medium Turkish Cypriot businesses,» the ambassador stressed, and that the United States also «remains open to trade with Turkish-Cypriot businesses.» The European Union has also promised measures to ease the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation but proposals for direct trade with the breakaway north have so far been blocked by the island’s internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered military coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.