Papandreou: Crucial time for Cyprus

The next months will be «crucial» for the Cyprus issue, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said yesterday after talks with the State Department coordinator for Cyprus, Thomas Weston. The US official said he hoped Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cyprus on Saturday «could have a positive impact» in getting reunification talks back on track. «The next few months will be crucial, because Cyprus will be joining the European Union and Turkey’s own position and its assistance in solving the Cyprus issue and other problems will be evaluated,» Papandreou said. Turkish Cypriots are holding elections on Dec. 14 and if parties opposed to Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash win, they may give new impetus to negotiations. On May 1, Cyprus will join the EU, but Turkish Cypriots will not enjoy the benefits if the island remains divided. Turkey’s contribution will be evaluated by the EU in late 2004 when it is to decide whether to start accession talks with Ankara. «Greece has shown its intentions in the last years and it is in our interests to see a European Turkey,» Papandreou said. «We will continue to provide this support.» Weston said he was «struck by how common and cooperative views are between the United States and Greece» on Ankara’s EU hopes and the need for talks on Cyprus to resume. «Assessing the visit in terms of all the individuals with whom (Erdogan) met, I think there is reason to believe the visit could have a positive impact in terms of moving back to talks,» he said. «My fear would be that the visit itself might be used by some elements in northern Cyprus in a way that could distract from the possibility of talks.» Reuters quoted Council of Europe sources saying Ankara had been given another week to pay compensation to Titina Loizidou, a Greek Cypriot whose property is in the Turkish-held sector. The deadline, following a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 1998, was last night. Turkey has not made it clear whether it will pay the 680,000 euros. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou told Reuters «the situation in Turkey remains very unstable» and «the Cyprus issue is blocked.»