Two sides in deal on Cyprus talks

After intensive negotiations in New York, which included a session lasting more than 10 hours on Thursday, the two communities of Cyprus made an important breakthrough yesterday, agreeing on procedures for talks that could end the island’s division before it joins the EU on May 1. «We have not solved the problem,» UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned. «But I really believe that after 40 years, a political settlement is at least in reach, provided both sides summon the necessary political will.» The Greek and Turkish sides agreed to a compromise offered by Annan which allows Greece and Turkey to take part in the negotiations while the European Commission will offer technical assistance. Negotiations between Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will begin on Thursday (Feb. 19) in Cyprus, in the presence of Annan’s special representative, Alvaro de Soto. They will continue until March 22. If no agreement is reached, Annan will summon Greece and Turkey for a concerted effort to finalize the plan by March 29. If there is still no deal, Annan will fill in the blanks and call separate referenda on the island. «Today’s agreement on the continuation of negotiations on the basis of the Annan plan represents a decisive step toward the Cyprus problem’s final solution,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis said. He congratulated Papadopoulos and the Greek-Cypriot and Greek delegations for their handling of the issue. «The agreement creates the conditions for substantial negotiations in a framework that rules out foot dragging. I hope the Turkish-Cypriot side will negotiate in good faith this time. I especially look forward to the European Union’s stated wish to contribute to the formation of the final agreement,» Simitis added. New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis expressed hope the negotiations will lead «to a positive outcome this time.» Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, who replaced George Papandreou yesterday, spoke of an «historic opportunity.» Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ugur Ziyal said, «I believe the work we have started will end in a win-win situation.»