Cyprus talks set to begin before direct negotiations

NICOSIA (AP) – Talks to reunify a divided Cyprus will formally begin this week when both sides start preparing for direct negotiations between rival Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders in the summer, the United Nations said yesterday. A brief ceremony tomorrow will herald the start of talks between working groups of experts at the long-abandoned Nicosia Airport, which is inside the buffer zone separating the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north and the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south. The working groups will try to bridge the gaps between both sides on issues such as security, territory, crime and health. They will have until late June to make as much progress as possible before Cyprus’s newly elected President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat begin face-to-face negotiations. Around 150 Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot and UN officials will make up the 13 working groups that will meet daily at the airport, which is the UN mission’s headquarters on the island. Christofias was elected February 24 in a poll seen as a rejection of his predecessor’s hardline stance on reunification talks. Talat has said he believes a deal could be reached by the end of 2008. Meanwhile, the UN political chief said late Tuesday he is very optimistic about prospects for reunifying Cyprus, but warned that there are many difficulties ahead and declined to give a time frame. «I think the entire world would be delighted to see Cyprus move forward on its negotiations,» B. Lynn Pascoe, the UN’s undersecretary-general for political affairs, told reporters after briefing the Security Council on his three-day trip to Cyprus earlier this month. Asked whether 2008 would be the year for ending the 34-year-old division of Cyprus, Pascoe said, «I’ve always thought we have to give these things time to work, but I would very much like to see the Cyprus issue settled just as soon as it possibly can be.» «I was really optimistic after my discussion with both sides,» Pascoe said. «I gave the council a fairly optimistic report today, all of us recognizing that there are many, many difficult issues out there that have to be resolved.» Rice: US warmly backs new dialogue on divided island WASHINGTON (AFP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged late Tuesday to throw US diplomacy behind new reunification talks between the divided Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus. «There is a new momentum building on the island and we very much support the efforts to use this moment perhaps finally to come to a solution,» Rice told an annual conference of the American Turkish Council here. Rice said the US administration was «disappointed frankly» when in April 2004 Greek-Cypriot voters rejected a plan promoted by then UN chief Kofi Annan to end the island’s three-decade division. «We will be active in diplomacy as we were the last time,» Rice said, also praising Turkey’s support for the 2004 plan and noting that the United States had taken steps to end Turkish Cypriots’ isolation. «It’s a more hopeful period and a more hopeful sign now. But ultimately some difficult choices are going to have to be made,» she added. «People are going to have to overcome political differences and really political resistance from both sides. And so we will be very supportive of the UN process there.»

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