CRANS-MONTANA (SWITZERLAND), Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that he is deeply sorry that, despite very strong commitments and the engagement of all delegations, the United Nations-facilitated Conference on Cyprus concluded without reaching an agreement.

Unfortunately [] an agreement was not possible and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatically long-lasting problem, he told the press in the early hours of Friday in the Swiss town of Crans-Montana, where the talks took place.

However, he noted that, in spite of the closure of the Conference, initiatives can still be pursued and developed in order to address the issues that were being discussed.

The UN role is the role of a facilitator and we will always be at the disposal of the parties willing to come to an agreement, if that would be the case, he added.

The Conference had begun on June 28 in the hopes of reaching a comprehensive settlement to the conflict that has divided the Mediterranean island for more than four decades.

In his remarks, Guterres also expressed his appreciation to the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders as well as to the representatives of the guarantors � Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom � and the European Union, which served as an observer.

He also thanked the UN team, led by Espen Barth Eide, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, for doing everything possible to bring closer together the positions of the different delegations. The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been split since conflict erupted in 1974. A UN buffer zone separates the two sides.

The admission came hours after he flew in to meet Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, and after US Vice-President Mike Pence had phoned the leaders urging them to “seize this historic opportunity”.

At the start of the talks, Guterres had said he was hopeful a deal was “very close”.

A round of UN-backed talks in Switzerland, which began in January, were seen as the best chance to move towards a two-state federation.

But despite some signs of progress, the negotiations were deadlocked and called off early on Friday.

One of the sticking points was over whether 30,000 Turkish troops could stay on after reunification.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said removing them was “out of the question” unless Greece committed to removing its 1,000 troops.

Another obstacle to the deal was the question over how to return property to tens of thousands of Cypriots who fled their homes when Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974.

That invasion was in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Athens government.

The UK, Greece and Turkey currently maintain Cyprus’s security. The two British military bases on the island would not have been affected by the negotiations.

Troubled history of Cyprus – key dates

1955 – Greek Cypriots seeking unification with Greece begin guerrilla war against British rule

1960 – Independence from British rule leads to power-sharing between Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority

1963 and 1964 – inter-communal violence

1974 – Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios, deposed in a coup backed by Greece’s military junta – Turkey sends troops to the island, who then occupy a third of it in the north

1983 – Rauf Denktash declares breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey

2004 – The internationally-recognised Cyprus joins the EU, after a UN peace plan was backed by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots