Date for Cyprus talks by Friday?

A date for the initiation of new peace talks on Cyprus could be set «in a day or so,» United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday in his strongest show of optimism since the last round of negotiations broke down last March. «I intend to invite the parties fairly shortly, and I think in the next day or so a date will be set,» he told journalists in New York. As Cyprus’s May 1 European Union entry draws ever closer, America, the UN and the EU have stepped up pressure on the Cypriot government and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership to soften their positions, to the extent that a reunification deal can be thrashed out in the next few weeks. Annan had initially insisted that he would only call for new negotiations if he had assurances that both parties would show willingness to cooperate. He has already discussed the matter with Athens, Nicosia and Ankara, but has still to talk with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. «We don’t have much time,» Annan said yesterday. «If we’re going to meet the May 1 deadline, we should move fairly quickly.» In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan consulted with Denktash, his new administration leader Mehmet Ali Talat and deputy administration chief Serdar Denktash – the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader’s son. «Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have agreed to jointly contribute to, and to back, the secretary-general’s efforts,» Erdogan’s office said in a statement after the meeting. In Nicosia, President Tassos Papadopoulos said yesterday he had spoken to Annan over the phone, but could not say when the UN secretary-general was thinking of holding new talks. The last round of negotiations collapsed after Denktash rejected a peace blueprint drafted by Annan.