NICOSIA (AFP) – European Commission President Romano Prodi’s historic visit to Cyprus will serve as a catalyst for the island to complete its EU accession talks by end-2002, President Glafcos Clerides said yesterday. We view this as a landmark visit full of encouraging messages for our country, Clerides told reporters after talks with Prodi. I am particularly pleased with Prodi’s statement that the Commission seeks to conclude negotiations with candidate countries by the end of 2002. The government believes Prodi’s message – that Cyprus will be among the first candidates to join the EU whether or not it finds a political solution to its dispute with Turkey that splits the island – gives the process new impetus. Our discussions confirm that Cyprus is well-advanced in preparations for being a member… Cyprus will be among the first group, Prodi said. He said candidate countries which have covered the necessary groundwork could end negotiations by the end of 2002 with a view to accession in 2004. He also regretted that Turkish Cypriots were not participating in the UN-brokered peace process to end the island’s 27-year division. We are very disappointed that the Turkish Cypriots refused to go to talks, said Prodi, who urged the Turkish Cypriots to return to the negotiating table and reap the rewards of EU membership under a unified Cyprus. We believe a political breakthrough can be achieved, he said. Accession would benefit all of Cyprus, both in economic and political terms, and we think there is a window of opportunity until the end of the negotiations – probably the second half of next year – for a settlement. However, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said it was unacceptable that Prodi had not traveled to the north of the island during his historic visit. Prodi refused to come to the Turkish Republic of Cyprus. The fact that he did not want to listen to the Turkish party is a unilateral and unacceptable attitude, Denktash told reporters in northern Nicosia after meeting with US State Department Cyprus coordinator Thomas Weston. The European Union must also listen to us, he said. Prodi’s vote of confidence has gone down well in Nicosia which is sensitive to any hints that entry could be conditional to a political settlement – on which Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots have insisted.