Denktash says he will quit as Cyprus negotiator if he loses December poll

NICOSIA – Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said yesterday that he would quit as negotiator in stalled talks to reunite Cyprus if he decisively lost a December general election in his breakaway northern third of the island. But Denktash said he was sure parties backing his rejection of a UN peace blueprint would win the election on December 14, barely five months before the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot republic in the south joins the European Union. «If they (the opposition) win by a great majority, it means the people have lost confidence in me, so why should I stay here and waste my time? But I know that will not happen,» he told Reuters in an interview. The EU and the US are pressing hard for a deal on Cyprus that will allow the entire Mediterranean island, not just the south, to join the EU on May 1, 2004. But negotiations on a reunification plan presented by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, envisaging a loose federation along with broad autonomy for the two ethnic communities and some transfer of territory, collapsed in March. Denktash, who has declared the Annan plan dead and wants a two-state solution for Cyprus, had previously said he would hang on as negotiator even if next month’s vote went against him. His political opponents say they will sideline him as negotiator and push for reunification if they win a large majority – a possibility viewed with hope by many foreign diplomats. The veteran leader, speaking from the northern part of Nicosia – Europe’s last divided capital – said there was effectively no chance of reunification by May because the international community had presented the Annan plan as the only framework for a solution. «The plan was put before us on a take-it-or-leave-it basis,» he said, arguing that negotiators should go back to the drawing board on the basic philosophy of the document. «If this is not done, it is futile to expect a solution by May 1.» The 79-year-old leader said opinion polls conducted by Turkish universities pointed to an increased parliamentary majority for the current pro-Denktash ruling coalition. Denktash’s own job as «president» of the Turkish-Cypriot enclave is not being contested in December’s poll. But he said he would consider challenging the opposition on legal grounds if it won the election and then tried to sign the Annan plan, which he said contravened international agreements signed by Greece and Turkey as well as the Greek and Turkish Cypriots at independence from Britain in 1960. Turkey fears no settlement in Cyprus could harm its aspirations to join the EU. In a progress report last week, the Commission said the divided island posed a «serious obstacle» to Turkey’s EU bid.