Papadopoulos racing to get Cyprus into EU

NICOSIA – New Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who wants changes to a UN peace plan for Cyprus, is working against the clock in efforts to reunify the island in time to join the EU in 2004, analysts said yesterday. Criticized as a hardliner on the Cyprus problem, Papadopoulos will come under increasing international pressure not to let his tough, no-nonsense negotiating style disrupt the February 28 deadline for a landmark peace deal. «Any new leader is more at risk of running out of time, because even the most conciliatory person in the world after February 28 or April will not get a deal,» a diplomatic source told AFP. The UN schedule aims at holding referendums on either side of the divided island on March 30 to endorse a peace deal, enabling a united Cyprus to sign the EU accession treaty in April. But analysts believe the practicalities of changing negotiation teams mid-stride will cause unwanted delay. «From a practical point of view, Papadopoulos might need more time to choose his new team and be briefed up to date and this might create a delay in the UN process,» said Neophytos Chrysochous from the Cyprus-EU think tank. He said the outright election win, taking 51.5 percent of votes cast to defeat incumbent Glafcos Clerides handsomely, had given Papadopoulos a mandate to negotiate a peace deal in good faith. The key issues are power-sharing arrangements in a new Cypriot state, territorial adjustments between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and the return of Greek Cypriots to the homes they fled when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third in 1974. «The core issues are the same for both sides and although there will be no dramatic difference between Papadopoulos and Clerides, Papadopoulos may have a different focus on what he thinks is important,» said Chrysochous. The new president has already hinted that he will try to push for more Greek-Cypriot refugees to return home than is envisaged in the UN plan. «If he opens up swathes of text for bigger refugee returns and territorial adjustments, the other side will do the same,» the diplomatic source said. «And the UN has made clear that the plan can only withstand minor adjustments to make a settlement possible,» the source added. The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot sides have found little or no common ground on these key issues during UN-sponsored face-to-face talks launched in mid-January 2002. Both sides have raised objections to the plan aimed at creating a loose Swiss-style federation and have cast doubt on whether they will meet the deadline. Papadopoulos, the fifth president of post-independence Cyprus, vowed to keep Clerides busy as an adviser, as he must now play catch-up on the UN-brokered peace talks with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash hurtling toward the agreement deadline. The outgoing president, who served two five-year terms, said he would «offer any help» needed. «The election was not a referendum on the Cyprus issue because Papadopoulos had converged with Clerides’s view on the national issue,» said analyst Pambos Papageorgiou. He said the UN deadline would have been broken despite the change in leader, as real progress depends on the political will of Ankara. «Papadopoulos will be working on a tight deadline but, while Turkey’s position remains unclear, don’t expect anything drastic,» said Papageorgiou. Although Papadopoulos, 69, was painted as a hardliner on the Cyprus problem, he insisted he would deliver a better settlement based on the UN reunification plan than the veteran Clerides. Papadopoulos denies he is a «rejectionist» but has little affection for Denktash, who sees the new president as someone who wants to take everything away from the Turkish Cypriots. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to visit Cyprus on February 26 to push for agreement by the end of the month.