Athens made clear yesterday that it will maintain neutrality on the presidential election in Cyprus while expressing hope that the politicking would not hamper efforts to end the island’s division. Greek officials were said to be relieved when President Glafcos Clerides announced on Friday that he would run for a new term in order to conclude the UN-mediated talks. But Clerides’s top aide and chief Cyprus negotiator, Attorney General Alekos Markides, joined the race on Saturday, leaving the Feb. 16 election wide open. Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with top aides yesterday and, sources said, made clear that Athens would maintain strict neutrality. He said the opportunity for a solution to the island’s problem must not be lost and that if the talks fail it should not be the Greek-Cypriot side that was responsible. Clerides and Markides, who both come from the center-right Democratic Rally (DHSY) party, met yesterday. Clerides said he would retain Markides as chief negotiator and as attorney general. Markides said that the fact that he and Clerides were competing with each other would show that both could behave in a mature way. He said that his remaining in the negotiating team would complicate his candidacy but that for him Cyprus and the Cyprus issue were the top priority. Markides was at the first joint meeting of two Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot committees whose task is to formulate a joint position on Cyprus’s international treaties and domestic laws that will apply when the island is reunited. «For a first encounter, there was a good atmosphere,» Markides said. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou expressed hope that the elections would not hamper a solution to the Cyprus problem. «It is logical that there will be differences in a pre-election period, but I am sure that the maturity of Cyprus’s political leadership will win through, so that we can move on and solve this major issue,» he said. Turkish newspapers reported that General Staff spokesman Rear Adm. Kadir Sagdic told a parliamentary committee on Monday that «Turkey would definitely face security risks if (Cyprus) became an entity that we do not control.» Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Baki Ilkin, who met with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash yesterday, told the committee that Ankara’s Cyprus policy had changed. «We will continue negotiations on the basis of the UN plan,» he said.