NEWS

Simitis calls on Turks to change stand

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday called on Turkey to change its stance on Cyprus so that UN efforts to end the island’s division can be given a chance. President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is to meet with Simitis in Athens on Monday, is ready to resume talks on the basis of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal and would like to see an agreement reached by February, Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides told reporters. Cyprus is to join the EU on May 1 of next year. If no deal is reached, only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits of this. Yesterday, Defense Minister Koulis Mavronicolas said Cyprus will put reconnaissance aircraft and training facilities at the EU’s disposal as part of its defense contribution to the bloc. Also yesterday, some 300 Cypriot doctors and nurses became the first Greek Cypriots to visit Turkey since a 1963 ban was lifted. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced earlier this month that such visits would be allowed from May 22. The doctors and nurses, who were attending a conference in Greece, boarded six buses and crossed the Turkish border at Ipsala, The Associated Press reported. They were to visit Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia cathedral, which has been turned into a museum, and the Orthodox Patriarchate. «We are happy to be in Turkey,» the agency quoted Evanthia Georgiou as saying. «I hope relations continue to get better.» On April 23, Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions on travel across the Green Line that has divided the island since the Turkish invasion of 1974. But Ankara and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership still insist that any solution be based on the recognition of two separate states, something that Annan’s plan rules out. Simitis discussed this and other issues with British PM Tony Blair in London. «We discussed Cyprus and we are of the same position. There is no reason to resume talks in the UN framework if Turkey continues to express the same position on the issue,» Simitis told reporters. «Turkey must change course if talks are to resume. The Annan plan… must not lose its meaning with talks that lead nowhere.»