NEWS

Annan urges Cypriots to accept deal

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned yesterday his efforts to reunite Cyprus would fail if either Greek or Turkish Cypriots rejected his conditions for talks starting today. «If the parties do not agree – and say no to the plan or to the basic agreement – then of course we are back to square one,» he told reporters. «I think (the parties) are coming here with a very clear understanding,» he added when asked if he would remain involved in the process should either side reject his plans. Annan is pushing for an agreement by March 25 so that a united Cyprus can join the EU on May 1. «They have an historic opportunity to unify their country and enter the European Union together with great economic and social benefits,» he said yesterday. Although both the Cypriot government and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership have voiced reservations about the tight schedule and Annan’s intention to fill in the blanks if they do not agree to everything in his blueprint, President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are in New York. Turkish news reports said Denktash wants to give Annan a letter and that if the secretary-general does not accept it, he will leave the city. Annan’s special envoy, Alvaro de Soto, will be mediating in New York and in Nicosia when the talks continue there on February 16. Papadopoulos met with Prime Minister Costas Simitis in Athens yesterday before leaving for the US. «It is the Cypriot government’s standing policy to respond to every invitation for talks issued by the secretary-general, within the framework of the mandate he has and on the basis of UN resolutions,» Papadopoulos told a joint news conference. «We are ready for the resumption of negotiations.» Simitis was more direct regarding the time pressure: «It is a fact that the timetable the secretary-general has proposed is exceptionally tight and coincides with the pre-election campaign in our country. But we are responding to his invitation because Greece and the Republic of Cyprus remain dedicated to the UN peace process, in accordance with UN resolutions,» he said.