First steps on Cyprus

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos is due to arrive in Athens for talks today after securing a fragile breakthrough with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat that could lead to a new round of reunification talks on the island. Papadopoulos agreed with Talat after talks which lasted for three hours on Saturday to proceed with technical-level contacts between the two sides. This means that Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot technical committees will meet to find ways of resolving problems that surround everyday issues such as policing and environmental planning. The two leaders also agreed that parallel discussions would take place on more divisive issues such as troop withdrawals, the property rights of displaced people and the future governance of a united Cyprus. «Let us hope this new opening will have a positive result at the end of it,» Papadopoulos said yesterday. He said that the agreement had been an «important step» but that there was plenty of hard work ahead. «The difficulties will come when the discussions will turn to issues of substance and whether both sides will show the good will to make the necessary compromises on the substantive issues,» he added. Saturday’s talks in the island’s United Nations buffer zone were brokered by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who hailed the meeting as an «historic occasion.» He said that a timetable had been set for the work to begin by the end of this month and the leaders would meet occasionally to review the process. In a joint declaration after Saturday’s meeting, the two leaders said they were committed to the reunification of Cyprus «based on a bizonal, bifederal solution with political equality for all.» They also agreed to avoid blaming the other side in an effort to build confidence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Gambari said. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said the development was a sign of «positive and encouraging progress» and called for the talks between the technical committees to produce «specific results» so that reunification talks could begin under the auspices of the UN. Papadopoulos is due to brief in Athens today Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and President Karolos Papoulias about the agreement he reached with Talat.