NICOSIA, May 22 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday he was optimistic Cypriots could overcome their differences on the ethnically-split island, saying it was well placed to becoming a key player in the energy market.
Biden, the most senior U.S. official to visit the east Mediterranean island in more than half a century, said the United States stood prepared to provide assistance in helping Cypriots heal one of the oldest and most intractable conflicts in Europe.
"Cyprus is poised to become a key player in the eastern Mediterranean, transforming the eastern Mediterranean into a new global hub for natural gas and markets," he said during a visit to Cyprus's ethnically-split capital, Nicosia. "It is possible to reach a settlement that reunites Cyprus as a bizonal bicommunal federation."
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup, though the seeds of division were sown in the 1960s when a power-sharing government of Greek and Turkish Cypriots crumbled.
A settlement to the Cyprus issue has become more pressing since the discovery of huge quantities of natural gas in the sea area between Cyprus and Israel in recent years, and amplified by the Ukraine crisis and the impact that could have on Russian gas supplies to Europe.
A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state is recognised only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognised as recognising the whole island, and represents Cyprus in the European Union.
A buffer zone corridor of no-man's land splitting the sides is lined with crumbling buildings pockmarked with bullet holes, a testament to past violence.
Underscoring sensitivities, a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu in northern Cyprus took place on Greek Cypriot conditions no symbols of the Turkish Cypriot statelet state be present at the meeting. (Reporting By Michele Kambas Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)