President George Bush has written to Prime Minister Costas Simitis, stressing the United States’ interest in solving the Cyprus issue and calling on Athens to encourage Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos to return to negotiations under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In his reply, Simitis stressed Greece’s interest in solving the problem but criticized the Turkish-Cypriot leadership’s intransigence. In his New Year’s message, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed confidence that the Cyprus issue will be solved by May 1, when the island is to join the European Union. He based his optimism on what he called the «electoral victory» of the pro-EU Turkish-Cypriot party led by Mehmet Ali Talat in December elections. Erdogan said also that his country’s Foreign Ministry and armed forces were working on a package of proposals for Cyprus. The European commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, yesterday declared that «it is meaningless to discuss Turkey’s EU accession until it fulfills the political criteria» set by the EU at its Copenhagen summit. In his letter, dated Dec. 26, Bush wrote, «The coming year will be historically significant for Cyprus, as its ambitions to join the European Union will be fulfilled.» Simitis’s office released a Greek translation of the letter yesterday. «The United States of America believes that it is important to reach a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, which will benefit both sides on the island and also the security interests of Greece and Turkey. At this moment, we have a window of opportunity for a solution, so that a united Cyprus can accede to the EU. We must not allow this window to close,» Bush wrote. He urged Greece and Cyprus to heed Annan’s call for a return to negotiations, which are conditional on all sides showing political will for a solution. «We will remain actively involved, but it will depend on the leaders, especially the leaders of the island, to achieve an overall and permanent solution,» Bush said. Simitis’s reply, dated Jan. 2, assured Bush of Athens’s and Nicosia’s political will and blamed the Turkish Cypriots and Ankara for lack of progress.