Cyprus peace talks resume today

NICOSIA – Seasoned adversaries Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash launch intensive peace talks today aimed at reunifying Cyprus as European Union accession looms large. Unlike previous efforts by the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot President and the Turkish-Cypriot leader to resolve the island’s longstanding division, there is a feeling of urgency as the EU clock ticks loud and clear. The two are agreed that after six months of continuous talks, an outline for a solution should emerge by June. If not, the Greek Cypriots will be forced to turn their attention to Europe. «Denktash is running out of time, the talks have a deadline, the end of 2002 – under no condition will EU accession be delayed for protracted talks,» an official source told AFP. The source said the worst- case scenario for Turkey is Cyprus joining the EU without the prospect of a solution and having its own candidature blocked for failing to show «good will» over Cyprus. Turkey invaded the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup sponsored by the then military government in Athens aimed at uniting the island with Greece. The island is split between the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south and the Turkish-occupied north, where Denktash has declared a breakaway state recognized only by Ankara, with UN troops holding the «Green Line» between them. Cyprus is a frontrunner in the enlargement race to become a full EU member by January 2004. It aims to complete accession negotiations in late 2002. Clerides’s government has pulled out all the stops to ensure that Cyprus joins the 15-member Union sooner rather than later. «If nothing happens by June, the dialogue will have no meaning,» Clerides’s Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said last week. He believes that EU accession will act as a catalyst for serious talks, after Turkey realized it could not stall Cyprus’s progress. «Most of the credit for the change in the Turkish position goes to the EU and its firm position on Cyprus’s accession,» he said. The EU has stated categorically that Cyprus can join the bloc with or without a political settlement, though Turkey has threatened to annex the island’s northern third in the latter case. In turn, EU-member Greece has said it would veto the entire enlargement process if Cyprus was excluded after meeting all the criteria. Washington’s stance is seen as another factor in Denktash’s U-turn, after he snubbed a UN invitation for indirect talks last September in New York. «Washington told Ankara that it was not in a position to prevent Cyprus’s accession even without a settlement,» Cassoulides said. At the end of November, Denktash wrote to Clerides requesting direct talks in Cyprus. At their first face-to-face meeting in four years on December 4, they agreed to open-ended talks on the island’s future «with nothing agreed until everything is agreed.» To improve the climate for the talks to take place today, the two leaders staged unprecedented «dinner diplomacy,» with Clerides becoming the first president of Cyprus to travel to the Turkish-held north, in order to dine with Denktash. Denktash repaid the compliment on December 29, when he visited south Nicosia for the first time in 27 years to dine at Clerides’s private residence. The dinners also paved the way for progress on the humanitarian issue of the island’s 2,000 missing persons, which the two leaders discussed at a special meeting on Friday. Today, they confront each other again inside the UN compound at the disused Nicosia airport, in a special area to accommodate a large number of special advisers. Both sides are expected to have a full complement of advisers during the negotiations, which could be held as many as three times a week. According to diplomatic sources, 10 rounds of talks are scheduled to take place on the island with maybe a final round planned for New York. Officiating at the talks, which have no set agenda, will be UN envoy Alvaro de Soto, who is likely to remain in the background during the early posturing. The Peruvian diplomat is expected to contribute with «suggestions, ideas or papers.. . probably at the beginning, he would prefer to listen,» an official source told AFP. On his arrival here Sunday, de Soto was upbeat and optimistic about the outcome of the talks. «I think there is hope that something new is happening.. . a new wind is blowing,» he told reporters. But he pointed out, «There is a lot of work to be done.» Denktash, for his part, said last week that he rejected permanent minority status for the island’s Turkish community, saying it was impossible to go back to the situation in 1960 when Cyprus was given independence by Britain. But he refused to speculate on the outcome of his talks with Clerides. The Greek-Cypriot side says if Denktash sincerely wants to negotiate – and not repeat his insistence on two separate states in Cyprus – then there is a real chance of progress. With membership in the exclusive European family on the horizon, the need for a speedy solution has never been more pressing.

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