NEWS

On Cyprus, focus turning to 2009

The European Union’s enlargement chief said yesterday that there must be a deal to reunify Cyprus in 2009, as the country’s President Dimitris Christofias said that he would be quitting as leader of the island’s Communist Party to concentrate on finding a solution. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that all parties should aim to create a «win-win situation» for the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities on the island. «We are not in the business of pressure. We are in the business of facilitation,» he told Reuters. Rehn emphasized that Turkey, which wants to join the EU, holds a key role in the negotiation process but underlined that all the interested parties would have to work toward a lasting solution. «It’s important for everybody, but Turkey is one of the key stakeholders…they have supported the process, yes, but it is important that we all intensify our political support for a Cyprus settlement.» According to Reuters, EU officials have said privately that progress in Cyprus reunification talks next year will be essential to move Turkey’s slow-going EU accession talks forward. «I hope that next year will be the year of Cyprus and its comprehensive settlement,» Rehn said. «We need…to reunify the island so that Cyprus could be like a normal EU member state, in peace, united.» «Next year will be a crucial window of opportunity for that, that’s why we will certainly invest all resources, all mental and personal resources that are needed to bring that support,» he said. «It is a matter of paramount importance for the EU to see a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.» Christofias indicated his intention to intensify his efforts to reach a settlement by stepping down on Saturday as the head of AKEL. «After 20 whole years, the time has come for me to pass on the baton,» he told an AKEL congress. Christofias, 62, became Europe’s only communist leader in February. He has led AKEL, Cyprus’s largest party, since 1988. «My obligations as president do not allow me to serve the party as general secretary to the extent that I would like and that circumstances demand.» Christofias began direct talks with the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat but the Cypriot appears frustrated that after three months of negotiations there has been little progress. «We are not as satisfied as we would like to be with the course of these negotiations,» he said. «Although we hoped things would move along despite the difficulties, unfortunately those hopes have yet to be justified.»