NEWS

Karamanlis to join Cyprus talks

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have accepted an invitation from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and will join talks aimed at solving the Cyprus issue on March 28, officials said yesterday. UN-mediated talks between Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash do not appear to have made any progress. According to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan, representatives of Greece and Turkey will join the representatives of the two Cypriot communities at a resort complex at Buergenstock near Lucerne, Switzerland, on March 24. Annan himself will attend the new round of talks «and has asked that all concerned be in a position to make final commitments at Buergenstock,» UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday. If no deal is reached, Annan himself will fill in the blanks and put his proposal to referenda on April 20, in the hope that approval will mean a reunified island can join the EU on May 1. US President George W. Bush telephoned Karamanlis yesterday to congratulate him on his electoral victory and, in their first contact, Bush stressed his country’s readiness to help solve the Cyprus issue. Karamanlis noted that the solution must be viable and functional and based on the EU’s acquis communautaire. The Turkish news agency Anatolia said that Erdogan would attend the talks in Switzerland. President Papadopoulos also is expected to attend, but this will be announced after a special meeting of the National Council of government officials and party leaders. Denktash has said that he will not take part, provoking criticism from the UN and Turkish officials. If Denktash does not go to Switzerland, Turkish Cypriots will be represented by Mehmet Ali Talat, the so-called «prime minister» of the breakaway state which is recognized only by Ankara. «It is very positive that Mr Karamanlis will take part in the talks,» Talat said. Serdar Denktash, son of the Turkish-Cypriot leader, said the Greek prime minister’s participation might get Rauf Denktash to review his decision. UN Deputy Secretary-General Sir Kieran Prendergast told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Cyprus that participation in the Swiss talks should be at a high level so that serious decisions could be made. He warned that if Denktash did not attend the talks he would no longer be seen as part of the peace process. Anyone who is not in the meeting «is not in the process and the process is going to be finalized next week,» Prendergast said. Ankara, which has pressed for a solution to Cyprus before the island accedes to the EU on May 1, so as to improve Turkey’s own chances of beginning accession talks, appeared angry yesterday at Denktash’s decision to boycott the talks. «I learned about it from a live television broadcast,» Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters in Ankara. «We can’t get anywhere with such grandstanding,» he said. «We should all expend efforts to protect the future of the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey’s interests as best as possible,» Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. The Cyprus News Agency said Gul reportedly said Denktash would change his mind. Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said, «Denktash’s decision not to attend raises a major issue that explodes the basis of the talks… which have always been held at the level of the leaders of the two communities.» Annan’s special envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, met with Papadopoulos yesterday in Nicosia. Prendergast and de Soto met with Talat.