NEWS

Nicosia, Paris, now New York

PARIS (AFP) – The leaders of the divided island of Cyprus failed to break their deadlock in UN-sponsored talks in Paris yesterday, but UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who took part in the talks, said he remained optimistic. «I continue to believe that the gaps dividing the parties can be bridged,» Annan said in a statement after talks in Paris with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The meeting had been billed as a last-ditch effort to end the stalemate over the 28-year division of the island. Annan first held talks with Denktash and then with Clerides before having lunch with both leaders and UN special envoy Alvaro de Soto. The UN chief said in a statement read to journalists by de Soto that he had asked both parties to work with his envoy and pursue talks «with a sense of urgency» ahead of a meeting with him in New York on October 3 and 4. «My discussions today confirm my belief that, though serious differences remain, the elements of a comprehensive settlement that would meet the basic needs of both sides do, in fact, exist.» Annan acknowledged each side’s «own distinct and strongly held perspective, both on the history of the Cyprus problem and on the way forward,» but noted that on certain issues, differences were «smaller than when these talks began.» «There is an opportunity at hand, waiting to be seized,» Annan said. Neither Clerides nor Denktash spoke to journalists following the meeting. They last met on August 27. Since UN-sponsored peace talks were launched in January, Denktash and Clerides have failed to overcome their differences and make any tangible progress, despite meeting two or three times a week until well into the summer.