NEWS

Turks inch closer to Cyprus plan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left for Washington yesterday, where the Cyprus issue will be high on the agenda of talks with President George W. Bush, after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Saturday and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership yesterday. Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis also spoke with Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos in a telephone call yesterday, Cyprus’s Antenna TV reported. On Friday, Turkey’s National Security Council – on which top civilian and military leaders sit – called for a resumption or reunification talks «to rapidly reach a solution that takes the Annan plan as a reference and is based on the realities of the island.» This indicated persistence with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s stand that the breakaway state he leads in northern Cyprus must be recognized. Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou said the Turkish call was «a small step forward but at the same time it is a tactical maneuver so Turkey is not solely blamed for the current deadlock.» Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said talk of a solution based on the «realities» of the island was outside the UN framework. But US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Turkish move was «forthcoming» and said that he had asked Greek Foreign MInister George Papandreou to appeal for flexibility from Greek Cypriots in response. Erdogan said on Saturday that he had asked Annan to appoint a senior mediator «from a country which is politically neutral.» He said he wanted someone «who will handle this issue from the beginning to the end and will inspire confidence in the parties.» Annan said he was «very encouraged by the message he (Erdogan) had brought me and… I will study very carefully what he has put before me.» On the question of a new mediator, he said: «We have always had a very good facilitator working with me. If we were to resume the efforts, we want to continue with a good facilitator.» It was unclear if Erdogan’s offer would meet Annan’s demand of the «necessary political will» to resume talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus before it joins the EU on May 1.