NEWS

Pressure on Cyprus intensifies

As international pressure for Greek Cypriots to accept a UN proposal for their island’s reunification grew yesterday, both Athens and the government in Nicosia were already planning their policy for the days after the April 24 referenda on Cyprus. As Greek Cypriots are expected to vote «no» and Turkish Cypriots appear headed toward supporting Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan, the days after the vote are not expected to be easy for Greece and Cyprus. Greek government sources said yesterday this was the reason Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made a carefully balanced statement on Thursday that expressed support for Annan’s plan but also did not dramatize the consequences of the Greek Cypriots voting «no.» He also said that Turkey’s course toward the EU would not be affected by the Cypriots’ vote. This, the sources said, was aimed at keeping open channels of communication between Athens and all parties involved in the effort to solve the Cyprus problem. Although Washington had expressed satisfaction with Karamanlis’s statement, American pressure for acceptance of the Annan plan continued unabated yesterday. President George W. Bush, who has phoned Karamanlis five times in the last few days, was to discuss Cyprus with British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday. After talks with Annan in New York, Blair said of the secretary-general: «I believe, thanks to his efforts and the efforts of his representatives, there has been the best chance that we will have for a generation of progress in Cyprus.» Annan referred to the April 24 referenda, which are aimed at reunifying Cyprus before it joins the EU on May 1. «This issue is now in the hands of the people,» Annan said. «I hope they will seize the opportunity to reunify their country and, in turn, make a new beginning together.» By late last night (Greek time) it was not clear whether the United States and Britain would succeed in getting the UN Security Council to pass a declaration saying, among other things, that «the Cypriots are faced with an unique opportunity to solve their problem» and that the Security Council was «ready to help support the quick and full implementation of the Annan plan» and to «help guarantee that all parties abide by their commitments fully.» Russia and the German president of the Council, however, were wary of trying to affect the Greek Cypriots before the vote. US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been speaking repeatedly with protagonists on all sides of the issue, said, «Right now we’re focusing on persuading both sides that it is in their interests, their very best interests to vote ‘yes’ in the referenda… This is a moment of enormous opportunity for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to resolve this longstanding dispute.» He added, «There is no plan B.» His Department’s spokesman, Richard Boucher, noted that the United States would help the Turkish Cypriots if the UN plan were rejected by Greek Cypriots. «We would not leave the Turkish Cypriots in the cold,» he said. Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Peter Schieder noted, «A victory of the ‘no’ camp will mean that only the Greek Cypriots will join the EU.» Referring to the Turkish Cypriots, he called on the EU not to make «those who want a solution pay the price of failure.» EU Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Wednesday, «I would find it rather unfair that the Greek-Cypriot community would enjoy benefits of membership, Turkey would enjoy benefits of entering the pre-accession phase, and only the Turkish Cypriots would get nothing.»