Athens, Nicosia unite

The leaders of Greece and Cyprus presented a united front yesterday after recent suggestions of a rift between the two countries, as Athens added its backing to the start of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the possible reunification of the island. After meeting in Athens, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said that the cooperation between the two countries is «full, continuous and completely coordinated.» There had been suggestions recently that the two countries were not in total agreement over how to react to Turkey’s problems in its European Union membership talks. In an interview last month, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis suggested that a new reunification plan for Cyprus was ready but Nicosia reacted with bemusement, further fueling speculation of a rift. However, both leaders were keen to emphasize yesterday that ties between Athens and Nicosia remain strong. «Our common strategic goals are well known and serve our national interests,» said Karamanlis. The two leaders also seemed in unison when asked what their reaction would be if Turkey failed to open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes by the end of the year. «Turkey’s progress depends on its full compliance with the prerequisites,» said Karamanlis. «We will assess all the factors and then judge which is the correct move,» said Papadopoulos. Karamanlis also applauded an agreement between Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat that heralds the beginning of two-track negotiations that could lead to a new round of reunification talks on the island. «The agreement is a positive step… we hope that the talks plan will produce specific results,» Karamanlis said. «A new effort to find a solution must be well prepared, without intervention and restrictive deadlines.» EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn also welcomed the move, saying it was «an encouraging signal that dialogue has a chance on the island, and that there is a perspective of relaunching a new process toward reaching a comprehensive settlement under UN auspices.»