NEWS

Clock ticks for Cyprus

Representatives of Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey meet today in the Swiss resort of Buergenstock in a last-ditch effort to hammer out differences over Cyprus before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan steps in to finalize his reunification plan himself. Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, Mehmet Ali Talat («prime minister» of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state), and the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey will be attending the talks. They will take a break to go to Brussels for the EU summit tomorrow and Friday. On Sunday, prime ministers Costas Karamanlis of Greece and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey will join the final phase of the talks, as will Annan. Annan will put his proposal to referenda on Cyprus on April 20 in the hope that a reunified island can join the EU on May 1. Talks between Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash since Feb. 19 failed to make any progress. Turkey demands that a deal exclude Cyprus from basic laws of the EU, such as the freedom to move around and to own property, and to enshrine this in the EU’s laws. But Cyprus’s foreign minister, Giorgos Iacovou, yesterday appeared to receive assurances from Guenter Verheugen, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, and the head of the Commission’s legal service, that Turkey’s demands could not be met. Leaving Nicosia for Buergenstock, near Lucerne, Papadopoulos commented on the tight framework of the talks. «But the pressure of the deadline should not lead to the sacrifice of the rights, the interests and the security that we hope to secure through a viable and functional solution,» he added. Papadopoulos accused the Turkish Cypriots of «intransigence» and of making «maximalistic demands» that were outside the framework of Annan’s blueprint. Denktash refused to attend the talks in Switzerland and has said he will campaign for a «no» vote in the Turkish-Cypriot referendum. Yesterday Erdogan repeated, «It is not possible to have a result if the issue of basic laws is not resolved.» His foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, added, «The agreement on the Cyprus issue must become an unalterable part of EU law.» Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said, «We and the Cypriot leadership are joining this dialogue both because we want a just and viable solution and because we were asked to by the UN, whom we have called on for years to help find a solution.»