Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash crossed the Green Line in Nicosia on Saturday for the first time since the Turkish invasion in 1974 split the island and its capital. The five-minute drive from Denktash’s home to the residence of Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides was in return for a dinner that Denktash hosted for Clerides on December 5. The dinners signaled a new willingness to work toward a solution for the island’s problem in UN-mediated direct talks to start on January 16. Apart from the symbolic and social aspect of their dinner, Denktash and Clerides agreed to work toward solving the highly emotive issue of the people who have been missing since the Turkish invasion. «Both sides will do everything that is required on the matter of missing persons,» Denktash told the Turkish-Cypriot daily Halkin Sesi. But in the same paper Denktash warned against Cyprus’s joining the EU before a solution is found. «There is the risk of a crisis,» he said. «Turkey will not give up its rights and it is not bluffing.» Greek Cypriots put the number of their missing at about 1,100. In a peaceful protest, relatives of the missing lined the route to Clerides’s residence on Saturday. «As a wife and a mother I have every right to know what happened to my son and husband,» read a placard held up by one black-clad woman. Students and refugees protesting Denktash’s visit were kept at a distance by a strong police presence. Denktash arrived in an entourage of several cars that drove through the UN-held airport of Nicosia. His armor-plated car bore no official markings. «The invitation by the president of the republic to the occupation leader for a social dinner fills us with shame and indignation,» said one leaflet handed out to drivers in Nicosia by protesters. Talks on Saturday also covered the living conditions of Greek Cypriots living in an enclave in northern Cyprus and the many restrictions that they face, the Cyprus News Agency reported. Coming out after the meal of fish, soup and white wine, Denktash shouted to waiting reporters that the meeting had been «excellent.» He also wished them a happy New Year. The positive outcome of the dinner gave analysts in Nicosia the impression that the direct talks starting on January 16 might be successful, the Athens News Agency reported from Nicosia. Reuters noted that though it was billed as a social event, diplomats saw the meeting between the two leaders, who have negotiated inconclusively for the best part of the past 35 years, as a vital step toward improving the climate ahead of January 16. Most Greek-Cypriot parties welcomed the outcome, though some expressed reservations as to whether Denktash would soften his stance in the January talks. «How positive the outcome might be will be seen in due course,» Cyprus Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides told the Athens News Agency. A poll presented by MEGA-Cyprus television yesterday indicated that 61 percent of those polled (on December 5-11) agreed with Clerides’s visit to Denktash’s home, with 32 percent opposed. Also, 60 percent approved of Clerides’s handling of the Cyprus issue while 31 percent disapproved, although only 48 percent believe that things have improved during the current administration (as opposed to 42 who believe they have worsened). But 59 percent said they were beginning to feel at least some optimism for a swift solution to the Cyprus problem. Let’s go back to the past when we were all going to live forever. Back to our ancient forefathers and to the beginning of spring, the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossom-time, which seems the logical time to start a new year, doesn’t it?