NEWS

Cypriots face date ‘with destiny’

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived on Cyprus yesterday in a final effort to push for an agreement by tomorrow so that a reunited island can join the European Union. Greek and Turkish Cypriots have «a rendezvous with destiny,» Annan said. He arrived on Cyprus after visiting Turkey and Greece, where he pressed the two guarantor powers to support the third version of the plan that he unveiled on November 11. Annan wants a deal by tomorrow but is prepared to extend the deadline for a week. This would still allow the two communities to hold referendums by March 30 so that a reunited Cyprus can sign an accession treaty with the EU on April 16. «I pray that the leaders, in their wisdom, will come to an agreement in the coming few days,» Annan told reporters at Larnaca airport. «Let the word go out to Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot alike: You have a rendezvous with destiny,» he said. «If this opportunity is missed, it is not clear whether it will come again any time soon.» Annan presented the two sides with his revised plan yesterday, which is believed to be along the lines of a memorandum presented on Sunday by his Cyprus envoy, Alvaro de Soto. Among other things, this would allow more Turkish settlers to remain and more Greek and Turkish troops to remain than the previous two versions envisioned. But sources from the Turkish-occupied part of the island said that its leader, Rauf Denktash, was not prepared to accept the deal. He has claimed that the plan «has given the Greek Cypriots a cake and given us peanuts.» Denktash’s position, however, is at odds with what is believed to be felt by a majority of his people, who have held mass demonstrations calling for a solution. They are due to hold another such rally today. Meanwhile, international envoys who have visited Ankara and Athens in the past few days have told Greek officials that the Turks have been persuaded to accept a deal. Foreign Minister George Papandreou met yesterday with Annan and US special envoy on Cyprus Thomas Weston and said that both told him that «there is a will on a political level (on the Turkish side) to move forward to a resolution of the Cyprus question.» Denktash met with Annan yesterday but made no comments after the talks. Today, Annan will meet with Cypriot President-elect Tassos Papadopoulos and Denktash. Outgoing President Glafcos Clerides, who had been negotiating intensively with Clerides in the past few months, was likely to attend, as Papadopoulos, who beat him in elections on February 23, has been consulting him continually. Annan expects the two sides to reply today as to whether they will accept agreement by March 7. If they do, they will have the opportunity to negotiate changes to the plan. They will then hold separate but simultaneous referendums to approve of the agreement by March 30. This will then «bring into being the new state of affairs in Cyprus,» as Annan describes it. Asked what he expected of today’s talks, Annan said: «Real movement.» The Greek-Cypriot side is approaching the talks with a willingness to negotiate. «We are ready to be accommodating, but this depends also on the other side, on whether they are prepared to be accommodating,» said Papadopoulos, who assumes office on Saturday. In Athens, Weston denied a Financial Times report that the USA was angling to give Turkey concessions on Cyprus in exchange for allowing US troops to use Turkey as a staging point for an invasion of Iraq. Both sides have expressed trepidation over the plan.