NEWS

Hopes for Turkish yes

President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are to meet in Nicosia today to work out an intensive program of talks aimed at reaching a deal to reunify Cyprus. The UN mediator said officials in Turkey had made clear to him that they wanted a solution by Feb. 28. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, was in Athens yesterday for talks with Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Earlier, Papandreou met with the US State Department’s coordinator for Cyprus, Thomas Weston, who then flew to Nicosia. Adding to the diplomatic activity, Russian envoy Vladimir Pyrgin also arrived on Cyprus yesterday. De Soto had visited Ankara earlier in the week. «I came away with clear signals of Turkish support in the search for a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of February,» de Soto said. «It is still within reach to have a settlement at last and let us hope that with the support of Turkey and reiterated support of Greece, as now expressed by the foreign minister, it will be possible to bring this about.» He made clear that it would be difficult to go over the UN deadline and still allow a united Cyprus to sign an accession treaty with the EU on April 16. «As a practical matter I don’t see any possibility of going beyond that date (Feb. 28),» de Soto said. «The EU needs at least a couple of weeks in order to make adjustments to the accession treaty in light of the settlement which contains a number of provisions that are not part of the accession treaty at present.» Weston mentioned Tuesday’s rally of over 50,000 Turkish Cypriots who demanded that Denktash resign or sign a deal so that they could join the EU along with Greek Cypriots. «It’s an unprecedented situation in which you have, if not a majority of the voting population, pretty close to it, coming out all at once in a completely peaceful fashion with a unified view that is ‘We want a settlement based on the UN plan, we want it now, and we want to join the EU on schedule following a settlement,’» Weston said. Denktash complained that the protests against him had weakened his hand at the bargaining table and argued that the Feb. 28 deadline could not be met «even if we worked night and day.» The Turkish daily Milliyet, however, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusuf Buluc warning that «one of those who have to derive a conclusion from the rally in Nicosia is Mr Rauf Denktash.»