Intense diplomatic activity behind the scenes for Cyprus

As the final day of the European Union’s Copenhagen summit dawned yesterday, the United Nations, USA and Britain stepped up diplomatic activity in an attempt to convince the Turkish Cypriots to begin negotiations on an in-principle agreement regarding the UN secretary-general’s plan for reuniting Cyprus. Late yesterday afternoon, they succeeded in getting representatives of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to begin proximity talks in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement on the negotiations before the end of the EU summit yesterday. However, later in the day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a deal would not be reached in Copenhagen. «We haven’t gotten an agreement,» he told the press in New York, adding his hope that the work done would not be wasted. Apart from Cyprus’s Attorney-General Alecos Markides and Tahsin Ertugruloglu, representing Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who could not be in Copenhagen for health reasons, also present were senior diplomats from Greece and Turkey, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Cyprus envoy Alvaro de Soto, Britain’s Cyprus envoy Lord David Hannay and the US’s envoy for Cyprus, Thomas Weston. The decision to hold proximity talks yesterday was preceded by a flurry of diplomatic activity by Athens, Ankara, Nicosia and the UN. According to reliable sources, early yesterday morning de Soto asked Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Ertugruloglu to be at the Equus Parkus at 10.30 a.m., next door to the Danish Foreign Ministry, to begin proximity talks. Clerides immediately convened a meeting of the Cypriot National Council, also attended by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. During the meeting, Cypriot political party leaders expressed conflicting views as to whether Clerides should accept the invitation, given the absence of Denktash. Meanwhile Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul hinted to the Danish EU presidency that Ankara looked with favor on the EU’s offer to begin accession talks with Turkey at the end of 2004, and was therefore willing to exert its influence on the Turkish Cypriots to lift the stalemate. Gul’s move, along with information to the effect that the Turkish Cypriots had agreed in principle to sign the Annan proposal – this latter leaked to the UN in order to exert pressure on Nicosia – produced a reaction from the National Council. After consultations with Simitis, it was agreed that Nicosia would go to the talks but would be represented by Markides, since Denktash would be represented by Ertugruloglu. This resulted in the Turkish Cypriots delaying their arrival at the meeting by one hour, although the Greeks had already arrived. According to sources, it took much persuasion, chiefly by Hannay, before Ertugruloglu arrived at the talks. The Greek Cypriots’ agreement to attend the meeting was a stroke in its favor. Fears had been expressed that certain European member states would otherwise have blamed both sides in the Cyprus issue for the stalemate.

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