NEWS

Cyprus readies reply

European Union leaders confirmed yesterday that Cyprus will be admitted as a new member of the union at the Copenhagen summit next week, irrespective of whether negotiations on a solution to the island’s division have progressed or not. However, there is intense diplomatic pressure on both the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot sides to reach a solution on the basis of the proposals of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month, with the United States taking the view that a settlement must be reached by December 12, the date that the EU is set to decide on the admission of as many as 10 new members. Cypriot government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said on Saturday the Greek-Cypriot side will submit its reply to the Annan plan, including the points it wants changed, early this week. European Commission president Romano Prodi said in an interview published yesterday by daily Eleftherotypia that the EU can no longer delay its invitation for Cyprus to join. «We can no longer further delay or interrupt the process,» Prodi said. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, at a meeting of center-right parties on the island of Corfu, said yesterday that Cyprus should be granted EU membership even if a solution to the island’s division has not yet been secured. Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of Cyprus since July 1974, has warned that the admission of Cyprus into the EU would lead it to annex the occupied territory, making the island’s division permanent. On the other hand, Turkey has been pressuring the EU to begin talks leading to its eventual accession to the bloc. The earlier Turkish position held that Cyprus and Turkey ought to join the EU simultaneously. As diplomats scramble for a solution, EU governments remain reluctant to admit Turkey, with its large population, faltering economy and a too-powerful military, at a specified time. But it appears they are closer to granting it at least the hope of starting negotiations in Copenhagen. «It would be possible to send a message in Copenhagen for a step-by-step approach with Turkey,» Aznar said. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash appeared yesterday to reject the Annan proposal as the basis for negotiations. Denktash has vacillated in recent days and it is not certain whether his position is the final one.