NEWS

US push on Cyprus deal

US Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday expressed confidence that a «moment of opportunity» had appeared for restarting the Cyprus peace talks, and said he was prepared to involve himself personally in the effort. «It will take time, but we are trying to make sure that we take into account the interests of all sides, especially the interests of the Turks,» he said after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Washington. Meanwhile, following talks with Kofi Annan in Brussels, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said he had appealed to the United Nations secretary-general to «immediately call» new talks. The last effort to reach a solution to the 29-year-old problem collapsed last year after Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash refused to negotiate on the basis of a draft plan drawn up by Annan. «We think it is about time to start substantive talks and leave aside efforts (for) public relations benefits,» he said. «We lost quite considerable time trying to wait for developments in the Turkish-Cypriot side, and time is really short. So we must aim at talks that are result-orientated.» Cyprus is to join the European Union on May 1, and international efforts have focused on achieving a peace deal by then so that both communities on the island can benefit from EU membership. Following his meeting with Gul yesterday, Powell voiced optimism. «I think it is time for all of us to put pressure on all sides to get a resolution to this difficult situation,» he said. «It has gone on for so long, and I think we are getting close to a solution… There is a moment of opportunity here that we hope to seize and have referendums and resolve outstanding issues and hopefully get it all done by May 1.» Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also in the US and met with President George W. Bush on Wednesday, has called for US intervention to help start talks – a proposal that Nicosia regards with suspicion, stressing that any new negotiations should be under the auspices of the United Nations. Turkey is also seeking a new mediator to replace UN envoy Alvaro de Soto and, according to Turkish media, would like Powell to do the job. Powell said yesterday he would be glad to use his «good offices,» but not as a mediator. «It is the secretary-general’s plan that we believe is the operative plan and the manner in which we move forward,» he said. Annan himself recoiled at the prospect of a new mediator. «I have had a good negotiator, Alvaro de Soto… who knows the issues inside and out,» he said before meeting with Papadopoulos. «If we were to resume the process, because of the time factor, I would want to have somebody in charge who knows the issues.» Asked about the prospect of the secretary of state mediating, Annan joked, saying, «I believe that my good friend Secretary of State Powell already has a job and has his hands full.» Nicosia voiced similar sentiments. Foreign Minister Giorgos Iacovou said that Powell «is the busiest man in the world,» adding that nobody can replace Annan in his role in the talks process.