NEWS

Cyprus in final push for accession

The leaders of EU member states and candidate countries yesterday kicked off a series of meetings in Copenhagen that will determine Europe’s future. Aside from the crucial last-minute negotiations preceding the expected invitation to 10 new members (including Cyprus), the summit is the scene of intensive diplomacy aimed at reuniting Cyprus and giving Turkey a date for the start of its own accession talks. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had shelved plans to fly to Copenhagen, diplomatic sources at the United Nations told reporters, after Turkish Cypriots said that no deal would be reached on the basis of his proposal for Cyprus. Annan’s envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, was involved in intensive shuttle diplomacy at Copenhagen. «I hope to shuttle until the last moment, whenever that is,» he said after a meeting with Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides. Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis was pessimistic regarding a deal. «The situation indicates that we will probably not reach a solution to the Cyprus problem here in Copenhagen,» he told a news conference. But Foreign Minister George Papandreou held out some hope. «It may need some more time,» he said. «If not now then in a few weeks.» Greece’s three aims, Simitis said, are to ensure Cyprus’s unconditional EU accession, a deal aimed at solving the island’s division, and the granting of a date for the start of Turkey’s EU accession talks. The first mission appeared to be going smoothly, but Greek officials were still wary in case some country tried to tie Cyprus’s accession to its prior solution. Turkey’s EU accession hopes appeared to be stumbling on the unrealistic demand by Ankara that accession talks begin within 2003, when major EU countries like Germany and France had suggested 2005 on condition that Turkey meets the necessary criteria. Simitis held what he called «a very friendly discussion» with Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and ruling party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The main items of discussion were Cyprus and a date for Turkey. «I repeated to the Turkish prime minister that it is necessary for the political problem of Cyprus to be solved… This is a truly serious problem in relations between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and Europe.» Gul responded, «Let us enter the house of the EU and when we are inside all problems will be solved automatically.» At his later news conference, Simitis said the Cyprus issue could not wait for its solution until Turkey joined the EU. But Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, in hospital in Ankara, repeated the Turkish demand, saying Cyprus should join the EU when Turkey does. His representative, Tahsin Ertugruloglu, was due in Denmark later yesterday. Leaving Ankara, the Turkish-Cypriot official had said, «In our opinion there is not a document ready to be signed. The document in front of us has not been negotiated by the Turkish- and Greek-Cypriot sides.» Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, however, reportedly told de Soto, «I am here, I have come and I am ready. I said I accept the text as a basis for negotiations. What has the other side done?» Clerides met with Simitis yesterday and also with Britain’s Cyprus envoy, Lord David Hannay. The US envoy for Cyprus, Thomas Weston, was also adding his weight to the effort. «Although there remain unsettled issues in the proposal on the table (and) there remain significant differences of view between the parties involved, the possibilities remain very good» for a settlement, he said. «Do I believe it’s possible? Yes.» De Soto, too, said he hoped a deal could be reached. «I do devoutly hope so, but the ball is still in the air, the game is still on. I think on the substance we should be quite close, within striking distance,» he said. «But decisions are required and they are difficult ones… In order to grab the opportunity, an agreement is needed before the EU takes enlargement decisions. That way, a reunified Cyprus can go into the EU.» That prompted Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who holds the EU presidency, to restate that Turkey must meet the same human rights criteria applied to all EU candidates, and to stress that this would be a European decision.