Europe’s top rights body on Tuesday hailed the recent resumption of direct reunification talks between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders, and urged both sides to hammer out an accord before Cyprus is granted membership to the European Union. «Today Cyprus faces a new situation. The Republic of Cyprus is negotiating its accession to the European Union,» the Council of Europe noted in a recommendation reached during a session of its Parliamentary Assembly. «The European Council declared that an overall settlement of the Cyprus problem was not a prerequisite to its accession. The assembly nevertheless believes that a political agreement between the two sides on the future of the island is possible and desirable before entry to the European Union.» Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash met yesterday afternoon, their third meeting since the resumption of face-to-face talks. Following a series of dinners and exchange visits across the Green Line, Clerides and Denktash agreed to hold three meetings per week in a renewed effort to broker an agreement, in the presence of a United Nations envoy. Talks are held on neutral ground in the UN buffer zone at Nicosia’s international airport, which has been abandoned since the Turkish invasion of 1974. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, is attending the talks. For the Council of Europe, the talks signal a breakthrough in the island’s longstanding division. «Today there is an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough after almost three decades of stalemate. To do so, we need a clear commitment to a peaceful solution by both sides, we need support from the three guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – but above all, we need a historic reconciliation between the two communities. This is where the Council of Europe can help,» declared Hungarian deputy Andras Barsony, who presented to the assembly a report on the Cyprus situation on Tuesday. The resolution passed by the Council’s assembly calls upon both sides to focus on finding a solution that could allow the whole population of Cyprus to benefit from EU membership, to refrain from using negative rhetoric, to ascertain the fate of missing persons and to seek to remove restrictions on the freedom of movement to either side of the island. «The assembly is conscious that until there is a political settlement the Turkish-Cypriot community is not in a position to participate in the membership negotiations conducted between the European Union and the Republic of Cyprus,» the resolution underlined. «However, it believes that the Turkish-Cypriot community should be urgently provided with all relevant information on the European Union and the potential benefits of accession.» According to the Council of Europe, the internal political situation in the northern part of the island is becoming increasingly uncertain and the Turkish-Cypriot community finds itself ever more isolated from the rest of the world and ignored by the international community. Moreover, in its resolution the Council calls upon the leaders of both communities «to avoid getting stalled on the terminology to be used as regards the form of the future solution and to concentrate on concrete political issues; to refrain from using negative rhetoric when referring to the other community and from educating their children in a way that could increase hatred and distrust toward them; to cooperate in good faith in the efforts to ascertain the fate of missing persons; and to remove restrictions on the freedom of movement to either side of the island.» The Council’s vision for a united European Cyprus laid out in its resolution in the form of steps that each side should take in their talks, could become a map for a Cyprus with a single European future. For the Greek Cypriots the Council of Europe is calling them to continue their efforts to bring about the participation of the Turkish-Cypriot community in accession talks, and to refrain from sending political messages, in connection with the EU, which could be interpreted by people living in the northern part of the island as a provocation. Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, are urged «to adopt a more positive attitude toward the European Union and inform the public accordingly about the benefits membership can bring; remove restrictions on individual contacts with people living in the Republic of Cyprus and any other obstacles in the way of reconciliation, including contacts with political parties; and provide all non-governmental organizations and the media with unrestricted freedom to operate.» The resolution, adopted after the presentation of reports from the political and human rights committee representatives, also outlines a set of actions to be pursued by Greece, Turkey and Britain, identified as the three guarantor powers in Cyprus. The governments of Athens, Ankara and London are called upon «to play a constructive role in ensuring that the efforts taken by the UN secretary-general lead to positive results in the months ahead; be instrumental in the creation of favorable conditions for the Turkish-Cypriot community to join the European Union accession negotiations; and to respect judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning Cyprus.» The Council took particular note of Ankara’s recent threats to annex the breakaway state in northern Cyprus if the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the south became an EU member prior to an agreement on the division. The resolution comes to rebuff those threats and calls on Ankara to refrain from such threats in the future. «Bearing in mind recent statements made by the Turkish authorities as regards the Republic of Cyprus’s accession to the EU and Turkey’s role as a guarantor power, calls upon the Turkish authorities to refrain from launching threats against the Republic of Cyprus in connection with the accession of Cyprus to the EU prior to a political settlement, and to persuade the Turkish-Cypriot leaders that future membership in the EU presents advantages for both communities,» the Council declared.