Annan visit is ‘crucial’ for Cyprus

Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday briefed Prime Minister Costas Simitis on developments on the Cyprus issue. «We agreed that we must place emphasis at this time on Cyprus, because we are coming to a crucial point in the Cyprus issue,» Papandreou told reporters. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to arrive in Cyprus on Tuesday for a three-day visit aimed at reviving flagging talks between President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. «This is an especially important visit, because UN secretaries-general have seldom visited the island,» Papandreou said. «We believe that all those involved will have to make use of this historic opportunity that we have before us; especially the Turkish-Cypriot side, and the Turkish side, because this is an important, historic opportunity for us to overcome a problem that has divided us and has created significant problems for us on the bilateral level as well,» he added. Papandreou repeated Athens’s position that a solution to Cyprus’s division would be of great benefit to Greek-Turkish relations. «With a solution to the Cyprus problem, I believe that our relations will progress with swift and positive steps, much further than we have managed in the past few years. The Cyprus issue remains the great problem between Greece and Turkey, despite the fact that it is an international problem, not a bilateral one,» Papandreou said. The Cypriot government spokesman, Michalis Papapetrou, said the two sides in the UN-mediated negotiations are as far apart as ever. «There has been no convergence in the 3 1/2 months of efforts and we are essentially at the point we started from,» he said. Hopes are now focused on Annan’s visit. He is to meet with Clerides on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday at the presidential mansion. He will then meet with Denktash at his office in the Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia. Annan will also host a dinner for the two. Annan «wants to encourage the two leaders to continue and to arrive at something tangible by the end of next month,» his special envoy, Alvaro de Soto, said.