Cyprus focus shifts to EU involvement

With the heads of the governments of Greece and Turkey, as well as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, poised to join talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots at the Swiss mountain retreat of Buergenstock, an agreement on ending the island’s 30-year division is still far from certain. Annan has been pressing for an agreement ahead of May 1, the day the Republic of Cyprus will formally join the European Union. Both sides have expressed, and still expressed yesterday, reservations about Annan’s tight timetable, which provides him with the power to arbitrate and shape a final agreement which must be ratified by the two Cypriot communities, in separate referenda, and by the parliaments of Greece and Turkey. On Tuesday the UN’s special envoy, Alvaro de Soto, submitted to Cypriot Parliament Speaker Dimitris Christofias a paper calling on the two Cypriot sides, plus Greece and Turkey, to commit themselves to signing the agreement in its final form, even if this is to be purely the result of Annan’s arbitration. Christofias deputized for Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who had just flown to Brussels to attend an EU summit. Yesterday, Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said, «The February 13 agreement in New York does not call for signatures ahead of the referenda.» According to sources, Annan intends for this document to be signed not only by the four, but also by the Council of Europe and the European Union. This is seen by Greek Cypriots as a maneuver to satisfy Ankara’s demand that no more cases demanding compensation, raised by displaced Greek Cypriots, come before the Council of Europe. An EU signature would provide a legal justification for the plan which, in what concerns mainly the ability of all Cypriots to move and buy property freely within the island, strays from EU laws. On the other hand, the Turkish government appeared angry at Annan’s plan for ratification and some sources claimed that Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan may not show up at Buergenstock. The European Council yesterday reaffirmed «its strong preference for the accession of a united Cyprus… and reiterates its readiness to accommodate the terms of such a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.» Papadopoulos and Greek PM Costas Karamanlis were both satisfied, especially with the reference to the principles. Karamanlis said that the EU enlargement commissioner will attend the Buergenstock talks as an observer. Turkish diplomats called the EU statement «not satisfactory enough.»

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