Cyprus deadline nears

Foreign Minister George Papandreou leaves for Ankara today for a series of meetings with members of the new Turkish government aimed at helping find a solution to the Cyprus problem. Cyprus’s National Council is to continue debating UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for a solution today, and Turkish Cypriots have said that they may respond today. Both sides missed a Saturday deadline to present Annan with their comments and negotiating points on his blueprint. Only the Greek Cypriots met a Nov. 18 deadline, accepting Annan’s plan as the basis for negotiations. As Dec. 12, the date of the EU summit in Copenhagen, approaches, Athens is trying to ensure that Cyprus will be invited to join the Union whether or not a solution is found, while Ankara is trying to win a date for the start of its own accession talks. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are coming under intense pressure. Annan’s spokesman said yesterday that he still hopes to get a basic agreement before Dec. 12. «Time is running out… but we are making every effort to meet that deadline,» spokesman Fred Eckhard said. Annan, he said, expects «to get substantive comments, replies from both sides, perhaps as early as tomorrow (today),» Eckhard said. Annan’s special envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, said in Ankara yesterday that it was time to show political will and a desire for compromise. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, who is due here today, said in Ankara yesterday that both sides should do all they can to reach agreement before Copenhagen. «It is important that we use this important historic opportunity to reunite (Cyprus),» he said. Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in an interview with Greece’s state television channel NET last night that if Turkey was given a date for accession talks it would help persuade public opinion and Turkish Cypriots of the need for negotiations to solve the Cyprus issue. Officials in Athens have begun to express concern at a climate of political tension that has begun to arise in Cyprus and polls which find that a majority of Greek Cypriots are opposed to accepting Annan’s plan as it is at present. But Prime Minister Costas Simitis remains determined to maintain the current momentum. «I believe time is short before Copenhagen, but I also believe that an effort must be made,» he said in a joint news conference with Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio.

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