Simitis visits Cyprus, UN plan on table

PM Costas Simitis starts a two-day visit Cyprus today on the first stop of his tour of EU members and new partners in his capacity as leader of the country that holds the EU presidency. He will meet with Cypriot officials and representatives of political parties from both sides of the island. The visit comes at a particularly significant time, as Cyprus signed an Accession Treaty with the EU in Athens on Wednesday but remains divided. Until the division ends, only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits of EU membership. But the Cypriot government is expected to announce measures in the next few days aimed at benefiting Turkish Cypriots. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul yesterday appeared more conciliatory than Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who has ruled out UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for the island’s reunification. «Let’s discuss the Annan plan and, if we want changes, let’s put them on the table for discussion,» Erdogan told the Turkish newspaper Vatan. «At least in this way, the road to negotiations will not have closed,» he said. Talking to Turkish reporters in Athens, Gul said: «The important thing is to provide lasting peace. If the Annan plan can help this, it can be evaluated,» the Anatolia news agency reported. The Turkish Foreign Ministry reacted angrily on Wednesday, saying that it did not recognize Cyprus’s accession to the EU. Cypriot officials yesterday, however, said that Gul had offered his congratulations to Cypriot officials. Simitis also played down Turkey’s reaction, noting that the Turkish ambassador had attended the accession ceremony and that Gul had been at the official dinner on Wednesday night and at yesterday’s European Conference meeting. In a brief meeting with Gul, Simitis expressed hope that soon Turkey would sign an accession treaty with the EU itself. At the Greek Embassy in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped accession talks would start late next year. «We urge our Turkish friends to meet the Copenhagen criteria,» he said. After a meeting with Simitis yesterday, Annan repeated that if the political will is there, he will support efforts to reunite Cyprus.