NEWS

USA downplays hopes for a Cyprus settlement

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The United States yesterday played down prospects of a breakthrough in stalled efforts to reunite Cyprus, one of 10 countries joining the European Union next year. Asked whether Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash had dropped his opposition to the United Nations peace plan, US special envoy on Cyprus Thomas Weston said, «No, I have not seen that.» «But clearly it’s a subject that we intend to continue discussing,» he told reporters in Brussels at the start of a 10-day European tour also taking in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Denktash stymied UN-brokered talks at The Hague in March that had sought to bring about a settlement before the island joins the EU in May next year. But Weston declined to identify the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader as the only stumbling block to peace. «I think I see the main stumbling block to getting a settlement is too much history on the island of Cyprus,» Weston said, saying both sides had to show more political will to promote a settlement. The US envoy said there were grounds for hope in the easing of decades-old restrictions that have enabled hundreds of thousands of people to cross the UN-patrolled Green Line dividing Cyprus. «I know of no other example in human history, and I’ve been through the opening of the (Berlin) Wall and all kinds of other things, where with this kind of emotion involved, that things have gone with such good will,» he said. Weston also said a 12-million-euro EU package unveiled a week ago to help develop the economically laggard Turkish part of Cyprus was «very generous.» Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey seized its northern part in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece. In the absence of a reunification deal in the months ahead, the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot administration will be admitted to the EU alone. Weston said there was still time for a settlement and called on Turkey – which is also hoping to join the EU – to push peace along. «A solution to the Cyprus problem, whenever it comes about, can only help Turkey’s relationship, the advancement of Turkey’s candidacy, to the European Union,» he said. In Brussels, Weston held talks with officials including EU foreign affairs envoy Javier Solana. He was due to visit Rome today ahead of Italy’s assumption of the EU presidency at the end of this month, before moving on to Athens, Nicosia and Ankara.