Nicosia ‘must take the first step’

A senior US State Department official, in Athens for exploratory talks on a possible new Cyprus peace initiative, insisted yesterday that Nicosia must set the ball rolling ahead of any future United Nations mediating effort. «The first step must be taken by [Cypriot President Tassos] Papadopoulos,» Laura Kennedy, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists after meeting Foreign Ministry general secretary Giorgos Yennimatas. «We desire a solution that should be acceptable by all parties, and therefore cannot hold a gun to anyone’s head,» she added. After talks with Turkish officials in Ankara on Tuesday, Kennedy is due to visit Nicosia today. She is expected to press Papadopoulos to outline in writing his objections to the UN peace plan Greek Cypriots voted down in an April 2004 referendum – a move Nicosia has rejected as compromising to its future negotiating position. A Greek Foreign Ministry statement said that any new peace effort «will have to have been prepared extremely carefully.» Meanwhile, Greek and Turkish fighter pilots jousted over the Aegean yesterday as Turkey’s air force engaged in the highest number of incursions of the past two years, according to Defense Ministry sources in Athens. A total of 60 Turkish fighters and naval reconnaissance planes breached Greek air space on 16 occasions before being intercepted and chased off. Today, Turkish forces launch an air and sea exercise southeast of Rhodes.