UNITED NATIONS – A UN envoy struggled to resolve differences between Greek and Turkish Cypriots ahead of their talks yesterday in search of an elusive deal to unify Cyprus before it joins the European Union on May 1. Veteran UN diplomat Alvaro De Soto shuttled between the New York hotels of Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to try to smooth the way for their meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan tentatively set for 4 p.m. local time. While each of the leaders predicted ahead of time that success would depend on the good will and commitment of the other side, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is hosting the talks, warned them that balking at his conditions could also derail the quest for a last-minute accord. Annan hopes the initial day of meetings in New York will lead to an agreement on a work program and ground rules for subsequent talks which would shift to Cyprus. While Turkey alone recognizes Denktash’s statelet, the Greek-Cypriot government is widely recognized and will enter the European Union with or without a reunification deal. Turkey has therefore put heavy pressure on Denktash, who was widely blamed for the collapse of an earlier round of talks last March, to return to the negotiating table. Ankara knows that a failure to reach a settlement would deepen the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation and damage Turkey’s own hopes of launching entry talks with the EU. The European Union and United States are also pushing hard for a deal. «The pressure on the Turkish-Cypriot side is tremendous,» said one Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. «This is definitely their last chance to join the EU. If they want to be a part of it, it has to be now.» «The May 1 deadline is the greatest of incentives, but a deal will not come easily,» cautioned another council member. Erdogan firm In unusually strong language underlining Turkey’s newfound desire for a swift settlement, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish Cypriots whom Ankara has sponsored for three decades would pay a high price if the talks failed. «We have given a road map to Denktash. We will see how loyal he will be,» Erdogan was quoted as telling the Anatolia state news agency. If the talks again fail, «then the KKTC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) will pay a price for that. Think what will happen after May 1,» Erdogan said. Previous UN-backed talks have bogged down repeatedly since the 1970s, due to an inability to agree over how much power would go to a central government and how much to Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot zones in a federal state. Annan wants the two sides to accept a previously drafted UN blueprint as the basis for the negotiations, and he wants the talks wrapped up by late March, after which he would fill in any blanks in a peace deal that would then be put to a separate referendum in the north and in the south on April 21. But both parties are uncomfortable with Annan’s demand that they commit now to hold an April referendum, and it is unclear they will fully accept his terms for relaunching the talks.