Setting the stage for a meeting between US President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tomorrow, which is expected to focus on the Cyprus issue, the State Department said late on Sunday that it was «pleased» that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was «encouraged by the positive meeting» he had with Erdogan on Saturday. «Following this encouraging meeting between the UN secretary-general and the Turkish prime minister, the other parties should demonstrate to the secretary-general the necessary political will as soon as possible, so that a settlement may be reached in time for a reunited Cyprus to join the EU on May 1,» State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday expressed skepticism over Erdogan’s offer to allow Annan to bridge gaps in the plan he has drawn up. «The answer to the question is: Let’s begin negotiations and let’s see what blanks will have to be filled in,» he told a news conference in Brussels. «It really depends on the number of blanks, on the issues that are blank,» he said. Papandreou noted that parts of Turkey’s latest statements on the issue appeared to be outside the framework of Annan’s plan (such as insistence on the «realities of the island,» which Greeks and Greek Cypriots see as shorthand for recognition of the breakaway state lead by Rauf Denktash). Papandreou also criticized Erdogan’s demand that Annan replace his mediator, Alvaro de Soto, saying the Peruvian diplomat knew all aspects of the plan perfectly and it would take many months for another to be briefed. It was not clear whether Annan would resume the talks. Prime Minister Costas Simitis discussed this with President Costis Stephanopoulos yesterday and said that the Turkish statements were «exceptionally unclear.» He added, «What is necessary is a substantial change in the Turkish positions, so, that, within the UN framework, a viable and just solution to the Cyprus issue may be found.» Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said that «because of the contradictory statements» from the Turkish side, his government would wait before stating its position.