NEWS

Annan hesitant on fresh talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday further consultations were needed before he could decide on a new round of Cyprus peace talks, but speculation grew that negotiations could start by mid-February. Annan appeared to be holding out for the sides to meet his conditions for re-engagement in the process, at a standstill after Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash rejected a UN peace blueprint in early 2003. «I need to hear from two more sides and then I will be in a better position to determine when, and whether, we resume the talks and if the conditions are met,» Annan said. [Returning to Cyprus after talks with Annan and European Commission President Romano Prodi, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said yesterday he had no indications that talks could restart soon, as Turkey has not softened its stance.] Annan has held talks with Ankara and Nicosia, but said he still needed to consult with both Greece and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership. Pressure is growing for a deal before Cyprus enters the European Union on May 1. Turkey’s Radikal newspaper yesterday quoted US sources as saying President George W. Bush would suggest that negotiations resume on February 9 in Geneva. Greek-Cypriot sources had earlier speculated talks could start around February 15. The UN says it will call talks only if it gets assurances from the sides involved that they will use the blueprint as a basis for negotiations, and agree, from the outset, that any result be put to referendum. But with time getting increasingly tight for a deal, observers say Annan will have no choice but to launch new talks. «He is between a rock and a hard place,» said one diplomat who closely follows Cyprus. «He is under a huge amount of pressure to deliver on this last opportunity.»