Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash took a major step forward in diplomatic efforts to reunite their island yesterday. In their first face-to-face meeting in four years they agreed to meet again next month and keep negotiating until they reach a comprehensive settlement. The development was welcomed warmly in Athens, Ankara, Brussels and Washington. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was very pleased at the agreement reached today, his spokesman Fred Eckhard said. The breakthrough came after Denktash dropped a 13-month demand that the breakaway state he leads in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus be recognized internationally before he meets with Clerides. Such was the improvement in the atmosphere between the two veteran Cypriot politicians that Clerides will visit Denktash at home for dinner this evening. This simple act, having dinner in the same city that the two men live in, will be the first visit to the occupied north by a president of the Cypriot republic. Denktash, in turn, will visit the free part of Cyprus before talks resume next month, on January 15. The two men met in the UN buffer zone in Nicosia, at the residence of the UN chief of mission, Zbigniew Wlosowicz, in the presence of Alvaro de Soto, the special adviser on Cyprus for the UN secretary-general. Clerides and Denktash shook hands before leaving separately. Clerides’s spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said the visit by no means indicates recognition of Denktash’s breakaway state. This is a message from President Clerides that there is the good will to utilize a climate of consensus… and break the deadlock to find a Cyprus solution, he said. Our side will attend the talks in good faith and with the intense desire to solve the Cyprus problem on the basis of UN resolutions, respect for human rights and the European Union acquis (rules), Papapetrou said. Denktash said after the meeting that if the two sides received equal treatment in the new talks, there would be a chance of success after decades of failed diplomatic efforts. This was a repeat of Denktash’s demand for his breakaway state’s recognition. In a statement read by de Soto after the meeting, the two men said of next month’s talks: There will be no preconditions, all issues will be on the table… the two leaders will continue to negotiate in good faith until a comprehensive settlement is achieved. It added that nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said the decision on further talks was a pleasing development that could bear fruit. It cannot be certain what the result will be but there is the possibility that such talks will open a few doors, he said. They are on a good road, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said, but he was also cautious. I have no illusions that these talks will produce a magic and immediate solution to the Cyprus issue, he said. It needs work, it needs thought, it needs action. But it is a way forward and this is what we must welcome. In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker welcomed the encouraging development. The United States welcomes the news from Nicosia, he said. We commend both leaders for reaching this agreement. The United States and the EU have been pressing for a solution to the Cyprus problem before the island joins the EU, with negotiations due to end by the end of 2002. Cheese. Burglars who broke into a food packaging plant owned by Giorgios Fytatzis in Evosmos, Thessaloniki got away with seven tons of cheese, it was reported yesterday. The total value of the stolen cheese was around 10 million drachmas.