Conditions not ripe for a fresh Cyprus initiative

The political conditions are not ripe for talks to start on a fresh initiative to end the division of Cyprus, a United Nations official said in Athens yesterday. UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari said the purpose of his visit to Greece was to see if talks could resume on negotiating an end to the 32-year division of the Mediterranean island. «We are not there yet. I am looking into how much political will there is and flexibility in this direction,» he said after meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Dora Bakoyannis. «We will try to assist in finding ways in which there can be forward movement in terms of possible relaunching of negotiations for a comprehensive settlement,» he added. The UN official will now fly to Cyprus, where he is scheduled to meet with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. Bakoyannis said the initiative started between Papadopoulos and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Paris in February, to set up technical committees paving the way for reunification, were important. «There has to be a timetable (for these committee talks) and the agenda must certainly include political issues, such as financial or census matters which constitute a start… for any new proposal to reopen negotiations,» she said. Gambari, prompted by a journalist’s question, said he had not brought Bakoyannis a message from Annan. The division of the island between the Greek and Turkish communities remains a headache for the European Union and a major stumbling block for Turkey’s bid to join the bloc. Meanwhile in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that a crisis threatening Turkey’s EU entry talks could be resolved but offered no compromise to ease the row over the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus that endangers membership negotiations. Erdogan told Reuters in an interview that Turkey was sticking to its demand for an end to the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots before it allows Greek Cypriots access to its ports and airports. «Unless isolation is eased we will not make any positive moves,» he said. «Stopping negotiations over the Cyprus issue is unthinkable,» he added. EU leaders have warned Turkey it risks a suspension of hard-won entry talks unless it gives all Cypriots trade access.