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Turkey, Greece welcome relaunch of Cyprus peace talks; reach deal on maritime security

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ANKARA, Turkey — The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey on Tuesday welcomed a decision by Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish communities to relaunch stalled talks aimed at reunifying the island, calling it an opportunity that should not be squandered.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu also vowed during a joint news conference to continue to work to improve the often-frosty relations and said the countries had agreed to increase security and prevent accidents in the Aegean Sea.

"We agreed on a set of measures which we believe will increase maritime safety," Cavusoglu said.

Greece and Turkey have historically had strained ties and are still at odds over several issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea and over the divided island of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci agreed late Monday to relaunch talks on May 15 to reunify Cyprus. The island was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

PHOTO: A UN peacekeeper stands guard in front of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots as they gather with banners reading in Greek: "Yes to the future solution now", outside from the Ledra Palace Hotel before a dinner between Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and the United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide inside the UN controlled buffer zone that divides the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on Monday, May 11, 2015. The dinner is the first meeting between Anastasiades and Akinci since the Turkish Cypriot politician _ a left-wing moderate _ soundly defeated the hard-line incumbent in an election last month. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
A UN peacekeeper stands guard in front of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots as they gather with banners reading in Greek: "Yes to the future solution now", outside from the Ledra Palace Hotel before a dinner between Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and the United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide inside the UN controlled buffer zone that divides the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on Monday, May 11, 2015. The dinner is the first meeting between Anastasiades and Akinci since the Turkish Cypriot politician _ a left-wing moderate _ soundly defeated the hard-line incumbent in an election last month. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Hopes for a breakthrough over Cyprus got a boost after Akinci, a left-wing moderate, defeated hard-line incumbent Dervis Eroglu in an election last month.

"We have good reason to be optimistic," Cavusoglu said. "This opportunity that we have needs to be put into good use."

Despite efforts to build bridges, major differences remain between NATO allies Greece and Turkey who have reached the brink of war three times since in the last four decades.

But Kotzias also said Greece and Turkey were "elements of stability" in a volatile region.

"We delved on how we can further strengthen this existing stability," Kotzias said. "Our common wish is for the problems we have in the Aegean Sea to be resolved. We want tensions there to be reduced."

Kotzias was in Turkey to attend the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya that starts Wednesday.

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