Cyprus nod stirs optimism

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have agreed to meet with the aim of relaunching stalled peace talks on the divided island, their offices revealed yesterday. Talat wrote to Papadopoulos on Tuesday accepting the Cypriot president’s invitation to meet. On the same day, Papadopoulos sent a letter to UN envoy to Cyprus Michael Moller, asking him to organize the meeting. It was unclear when the talks would take place. Cyprus’s Communist Party (AKEL) leader Dimitris Christofias, who faces Papadopoulos in forthcoming presidential elections, described Talat’s openness to talks as a «positive step.» But a spokesman for Talat, Hasan Ercakica, said comments by Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Marcoullis, according to which Ankara holds the key to peace on Cyprus, could strain negotiations. The prospect of a meeting between the two men was hailed by the British Foreign Office. «We would welcome a meeting between President Papadopoulos and Mr Talat,» a Foreign Office spokesman told the Cyprus News Agency. The spokesman supported Nicosia’s intention to explore for oil and gas off the island, a prospect which has angered Ankara. «The rights of the Republic of Cyprus, on the basis of international law, cannot be called into doubt,» the spokesman said. In a related development yesterday, a US-based company and an international consortium (comprising three companies from Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom) applied for licenses to explore for oil off the Cypriot coast. Cyprus is auctioning off oil exploration rights in around 70,000 square kilometers south of the island, a move that has angered Turkey, which claims to have its own legal rights and interests in the area.