PM takes Cyprus issue to Prague

The diplomatic maneuvering to solve the Cyprus problem before the EU summit next month shifted to Prague yesterday, where leaders of NATO members and candidates gathered for a two-day meeting. US President George W. Bush was expected to meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis to discuss Cyprus, following Bush’s meeting with Turkish President Ahmet Sezer yesterday. On another issue, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said that Greece was waiting for Sezer’s reply to whether Turkey agreed with the EU’s position on the Union’s nascent rapid reaction force using NATO assets. Turkey is a member of NATO and is hoping to be given a date for the start of its EU accession talks at the Copenhagen summit on December 12. Athens has suggested that EU countries might view Turkey’s bid more favorably if it made gestures to help solve the Cyprus issue and the problem with the European Security and Defense Policy. «We are waiting for Mr Sezer’s reply. We have heard that there are positive reactions in Turkey in principle but we have to see this in action,» Papandreou said after a meeting with Simitis, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and other officials in Athens before Simitis’s departure. Simitis is expected to present the Cypriot government’s position to his NATO counterparts in Prague. Greek Cypriots on Monday met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s deadline and accepted his plan as the basis for talks. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have not answered, citing a change of government in Ankara and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s complications after heart surgery. Yesterday, Denktash responded to Annan’s call for his deadlines to be met, saying, «The plan has several points that are unacceptable, that need to be changed and can, in time, wipe us away as a minority,» the Turkish-Cypriot news agency TAK quoted him as saying from New York. «There are huge traps, huge problems in many… of the lines of the 150-odd page document,» Denktash said. «What sort of changes do we require? We have to look into that.» His comments were echoed, curiously, by the Church of Greece, which also claimed Annan’s plan was a trap. «It hides the possibility of long-term troubles and complications, victims of which will be, once again, both communities on Cyprus. Therefore, the Church of Greece does not congratulate the UN general-secretary for the plan and does not consider it a plan for the true solution of the Cyprus issue,» Archbishop Christodoulos declared. Britain’s envoy for Cyprus, Lord David Hannay, met with Papandreou in Athens and stressed the need for the Turkish side to reply soon. «I hope that the UN secretary-general’s appeal yesterday will not fall on deaf ears,» he said. Papandreou said any country that tried to block Cyprus’s accession if no solution was found «will have to deal with us.» The leader of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met in Brussels with European Commission President Romano Prodi. Prodi praised Turkey’s «great progress» in democratic and economic reforms. But he added: «We have to stick to the criteria… Not only do the (reform) decisions have to be taken, but they must also be implemented.» Meanwhile, in an indication that the Turkish side might consider giving back land under occupation, former President Kenan Evren said that when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, its troops had occupied more land than they planned because they did not find strong resistance. Speaking on CNN-Turk, he said Denktash had once told him he was more interested in «guarantees» than in territory.

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