Turk-Cypriot leader hopes for direct reunification talks

BRUSSELS – Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said yesterday he still hopes to begin face-to-face negotiations on reunifying Cyprus with the Greek-Cypriot president next month and aims to get a deal by the end of the year. Talat, who held talks with several EU foreign ministers in Brussels, said he remains optimistic that he and Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias can work out differences that have so far blocked direct negotiations to end the more than three-decades-long division of Cyprus. «I am really optimistic because there is a change on the Greek-Cypriot side,» Talat told The Associated Press in an interview. «It is quite possible to reach a solution by the end of 2008,» Talat said, adding that a lot of technical work had already been done in previous attempts to reach a deal. He said face-to-face negotiations would concentrate on the «thorniest» remaining issues, including property rights, power sharing and security. Despite remaining optimistic, Talat said he believes the Greek Cypriots are not ready however for reunification talks to start next month, despite having agreed to a June 21 start date. «We agreed already on March 21 that we will start negotiations three months later from the date, this was declared,» Talat said. «But… the Greek-Cypriot side argued that this is not the fact. My impression is that Greek Cypriots are not ready to start on June 21, so this is a problem and we have to overcome this.» Talat and Christofias met last Friday to review preparations for starting direct talks, but disagreed on a start date. Greek-Cypriot government officials have said that negotiators had not made enough progress on some of the more sensitive issues to start direct talks. Past efforts to reach a solution have been stalled by disagreements over issues that include power-sharing arrangements, the return of property to Greek Cypriots, and the fate of settlers from the Turkish mainland in northern Cyprus. Talat said he urged European Union officials yesterday to keep the pressure on Greek Cypriots so they remain committed to finding a solution. «We are asking the EU to encourage Greek Cypriots for a solution because they don’t need a solution as we need, so… motivation is necessary,» Talat said. Talat said he was hopeful that three years after promises were made to open up trade, Germany would force a breakthrough before its European Union presidency ends in June. The Turkish-Cypriot community stands to gain millions of euros in tourism and trade if it gets access to the EU, a move that would deeply anger Cyprus, because it sees it as recognition of northern Cyprus as a separate state. Unblocking the aid and lifting the trade embargo has been an arduous process within the EU, due to Cypriot objections. Cyprus has also linked the issue to EU entry talks with Turkey, which are making little progress because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports to trade with Cyprus.