NEWS

UN’s Cyprus plan picks up speed

The effort to solve the Cyprus issue gained speed yesterday as Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot officials were given each other’s comments on a UN plan to study ahead of further negotiations. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash was due to leave for Cyprus later yesterday after spending two months in New York following heart surgery. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a proposal on Nov. 11 that he said was the basis for a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus issue in the hope of having both sides agree to a deal before the EU summit in Copenhagen next Thursday. EU leaders are expected to invite Cyprus and nine other candidates to join the EU. The two sides on Cyprus are expected to begin UN-mediated «proximity talks» as soon as possible, in a bid to reach a deal by Thursday. Today, UN envoy for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto is expected to meet with President Glafcos Clerides in Nicosia. In coming days he will meet with Turkish-Cypriot officials. «We are starting a genuine phase of very accelerated negotiations with a view to reaching decisive conclusions very, very soon,» he said. Cyprus Attorney General Alekos Markides, however, said it was most unlikely a deal would be reached by Thursday. «There are gaps that need to be negotiated and no one is going to sign blank pages,» he said. He repeated the Greek-Cypriot position that intensive negotiations should be held before Dec. 12 and continue afterward if no agreement is reached. In Athens, officials believe that as the EU summit approaches, it becomes clearer that Cyprus will be invited to join the union unconditionally, even if its political problem has not been solved. The summit is to decide also whether to give Turkey a date for the start of accession talks. France and Germany want Turkey to wait until mid-2005, if it meets the necessary criteria, while the prime ministers of Greece and Italy agreed in Rome that the date should be January 1, 2004, Reuters quoted an Italian government official as saying. De Soto said after giving President Clerides a copy of the Turkish-Cypriot comments, «I hope this is the beginning of an entirely new phase in the negotiations.»