A senior United Nations official made her first trip to the divided island of Cyprus Wednesday looking for "a way forward" as positions harden in one of the world's longest-running disputes.

Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, met for about one hour with newly-elected Cyprus President and Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Christodoulides at the presidential palace in Nicosia, the world's last divided capital.

The Mediterranean island is split between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Proclaimed after Turkey launched a 1974 invasion in response to a Greek-sponsored coup, the TRNC is recognised only by Ankara and covers the northern third of the island.

UN-backed reunification talks have been in limbo since the last round collapsed at Crans-Montana, Switzerland, in July 2017, almost a year before DiCarlo took up her current post dealing with the world's major conflict zones.

"We discussed at length the Cyprus issue and we just want to reiterate the commitments of the secretary general to supporting a resolution," DiCarlo told reporters after her talks with Christodoulides.

She declined to take questions.

A former foreign minister backed by parties that take a hard line in reunification talks, Christodoulides won a runoff election in February.

DiCarlo reported "an excellent meeting" with him and said she was also going "to discuss further a way forward" with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

Tatar, a protege of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has urged the international community to "acknowledge the existence" of two states in Cyprus.

Christodoulides has said he supports a bi-zonal bi-communal federation in line with the United Nations framework but wants a greater EU role in the negotiations.

Before leaving Cyprus on Thursday, DiCarlo is to meet some of the nearly 800 UN peacekeepers who patrol the buffer zone which runs across the island and through Nicosia, where buildings abandoned for decades crumble behind passages blocked by rusting oil drums.

In his twice-yearly report to the Security Council in January, UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed concerns including "ongoing militarisation of the ceasefire lines" and a political climate marked by "significant hardening of positions" on both sides.

A surge in tough rhetoric from north and south of the divide "has led to increased rigidity while the prospects for a mutually agreeable settlement continue to fade", he said.