Complications nip at Cypriot unity talks

Talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s division resume today after a three-day break during which two new polls among Greek Cypriots found that most of them are opposed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s blueprint as it stands and Turkey complicated the issue by saying it would ratify an agreement only after it has been approved by the island’s people in referenda. Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou told the EU’s foreign affairs supremo, Javier Solana, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, that Turkey’s demand that it ratify three agreements (the Annan plan and the treaties regarding guarantors and alliances) three months after the vote would create problems as the new government’s work would begin the day after the referenda, which are slated for April 21. Annan’s timetable demands that Greece and Turkey declare in writing by April 9 that they will honor the results of the Cypriots’ vote. Talks resumed last week on the basis of Annan’s plan, under intense pressure from the international community which wants to see Cyprus united before it joins the European Union on May 1. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in Ankara yesterday, praised Ankara’s efforts to help solve the Cyprus issue, something which is expected to help its own bid to start accession talks with the EU. «If these efforts continue, they will make a positive contribution to the EU decision (on opening talks),» Schroeder said. In Brussels, the EU’s foreign ministers «stressed (their) clear preference for the accession of a united Cyprus on May 1 and (their) full support for (UN) Secretary-General (Kofi) Annan’s efforts for the conclusion of an agreement.» They also reiterated their «willingness… to accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded,» their statement said. Greek Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis discussed Cyprus with Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen on the meeting’s sidelines. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, however, yesterday appeared to set his own timetable for a solution. «We may reach an agreement by December, when the European Union will decide whether to start accession talks with Turkey. Maybe we can hold the referenda then,» he told a Turkish newspaper. A poll made public on Friday suggested that 61 percent of Greek Cypriots opposed the Annan plan unless it was changed. A poll (by Evresis Call Center for Antenna-Cyprus), which was made public on Saturday, found 42 percent opposed to the plan and 22 percent in favor, with 36 percent undetermined. A poll by ACNielsen, conducted for the newspaper Politis, found that 40 percent opposed and 31 percent supported the plan, while the vote of 29 percent was undetermined.