NEWS

Cyprus concludes accession talks

EU foreign ministers met in Brussels last night to discuss Cyprus’s accession to the Union at the Copenhagen summit on Thursday and Friday and Turkey’s demand for a date to begin its own accession talks. The discussion was going on late into the night and, along with today’s General Affairs Council, was expected to indicate whether there will be any problems with Cyprus’s accession if the UN effort to reunite the island has not succeeded by the time the EU is to invite 10 new countries to join. Significantly, Cyprus yesterday became the first of the 10 mostly Eastern European candidates to conclude accession talks, accepting the EU’s economic offer on condition that it share in any concessions that the other candidates may win. Intensive diplomatic efforts to solve the Cyprus issue continue in the runup to Copenhagen. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, met twice with President Glafcos Clerides and once with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to discuss their comments on Annan’s proposal for a comprehensive settlement. It was not clear yesterday whether Annan would present a revised plan today. The Athens News Agency reported from Nicosia that the UN was not ready to present it yesterday. «We have got comments from both parties and we are looking at a revised text which I hope will be ready shortly. And we will share that with the parties,» Annan told the Cyprus News Agency in New York yesterday. But de Soto, after his second meeting with Clerides in Nicosia, said, «I don’t know whether I am going to submit (a plan).» Earlier, the ANA had said the revised proposal would foresee a reduction of 35,000 in the number of Turkish settlers who would be allowed to stay on the island, a reduction in the transition period from the proposed three years to six or nine months and emphasis on refugees’ right to return rather than their right to compensation. US envoy for Cyprus Thomas Weston was also in Nicosia yesterday, in a coordinated effort to make progress. «We are looking forward to a very productive week both here and in Copenhagen,» Weston said after a meeting with Clerides. He was later to meet with Denktash. The European Parliament’s president, Pat Cox, who was also in Nicosia, said that a united Cyprus joining the EU would be ideal. «We don’t live in paradise and the ideal is not always possible, but we must try first,» he said. He too met with Clerides and Denktash. Athens and Nicosia have concentrated on securing Cyprus’s EU accession without problems. Prime Minister Costas Simitis discussed this with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Aznar, in Madrid yesterday, while Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides discussed it with Britain’s Cyprus envoy, Lord David Hannay. «Mr Aznar says that Cyprus must accede along with the other countries and that the solution of the political problem is not a precondition for its accession,» Simitis said. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, in Brussels, said that there was still time to solve the Cyprus issue. «There’s hard work being done by the UN. We’re trying to see if we can get a solution before Copenhagen. We hope so,» he said. «If not, we’ll continue afterward, but we’re working for it.» Turkey, meanwhile, signaled that it might accept being given a date for the date for the start of accession talks. «The date for the start of accession talks could be given at the summit in Thessaloniki (in June) and this decision could be taken at Copenhagen,» Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told the Radikal newspaper.