After talks with Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu in New York on Thursday, Ban told reporters the two men would aim to work out a “practical plan” to resolve outstanding problems.
The UN secretary-general said he planned to meet Christofias and Eroğlu again in Geneva at the end of January to seek progress in ending a conflict that is harming Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
“In the meantime, the leaders will identify further convergences and the core issues which still need to be resolved across all chapters,” Ban said.
The east Mediterranean island of Cyprus was split in a Turkish military intervention in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia. Some 30,000 Turkish troops remain in the north, where the Turkish Cypriots live.
In principle, both sides agree to reunite Cyprus as a federation. But the latest series of UN-mediated talks, which started two years ago, are stalled over whether thousands of displaced Cypriots should have the right to regain their properties or be compensated.
The two sides also cannot agree on power sharing and how much territory each side will retain.
Ban said he had called the two leaders to New York because the talks, mediated by former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for the United Nations, were “losing momentum” after appearing to be headed for success earlier in the year.
Flanked by a silent Christofias and Eroğlu, Ban lectured them on their need to take initiative.
“We expect the Cypriot sides to assume their responsibility to drive this process toward a solution,” he said. “The people of Cyprus and the international community want a solution, not endless talks.”
He then clasped the two leaders' hands for cameras before leading them away without taking questions, citing “the sensitive nature of the discussions.”
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is recognized only by Ankara, whereas Greek Cypriots represent the whole island in the EU and say Turkey cannot join the bloc until the conflict is resolved.
Last week Brussels chided Turkey, which started EU membership talks in 2005, for failing to normalize relations with Greek Cypriots.
Ankara accuses the EU of failing to ease Turkish Cypriots out of isolation, a pledge made when that community voted in favor of a UN reunification blueprint for Cyprus in 2004. Greek Cypriots voted against it.
Ban said he believed the two leaders understood the need “to move more quickly and decisively” to reach a settlement and had agreed “to work together, as partners.”
“Specifically, the leaders agreed today to intensify their contacts in the coming weeks in order to establish a practical plan for overcoming the major remaining points of disagreement,” he said.
The thorny property issue stems from the fact that at least 160,000 Greek Cypriots fled their homes in the Turkish intervention of 1974 while some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots fled their homes in inter-communal conflict before that.
An estimated 80 percent of property in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north is owned on paper by Greek Cypriots living in the south.
Turkish Cypriots favor compensation, saying property restitution sought by Greek Cypriots could upset the balance of a future federation. Greek Cypriots say a political settlement cannot supersede an individual's property rights.
Ban said that, apart from property, Thursday's talks covered other core issues, including governance, power sharing, the economy, EU affairs, territory and security.