Greece and Cyprus offer olive branch

Athens and Nicosia said yesterday they would be prepared to call off joint military maneuvers on Cyprus at the end of the month, on the eve of a European Union summit that will focus on the problems of the 15-member Union’s eastward expansion. «On our part, there exists the political will to examine the question [of putting off the annual exercises] in order to build a mood of non-tension with Ankara,» Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said, «provided Turkey also displays similar political will. Nothing will be decided unless we are certain that the other side will behave in a similar fashion.» The Nikiforos/Toxotis air, sea and land exercises are due to take place about the same time Turkey will be holding its Toros manoeuvres in occupied northern Cyprus. Sources in Athens and Nicosia say a Turkish decision to call off the Toros exercises would result in the cancellation of Nikiforos/Toxotis. Greek Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said there was no indication, so far, that Ankara would be prepared to reciprocate. «So far, existing plans have not changed,» he told journalists yesterday. «That is all I can say, so far – and I stress, so far.» He was echoed by Cypriot government spokesman, Michalis Papapetrou. Both Athens and Nicosia are loath to do anything that could be construed as heightening regional tension, as the crucial mid-December EU summit in Copenhagen – when the Union is set to approve Cyprus’s accession – approaches. Speaking to journalists after yesterday’s Cabinet session that discussed developments regarding Cyprus, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said Cyprus’s prospects looked good. «But the matter is not closed, as we still have the final decision ahead of us, as well as many other developments, which could be very important,» he said. «There are the Turkish elections, and we hope [Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf] Denktash’s health improves so that he can contribute to negotiations. The United Nations secretary-general may also table a proposal on Cyprus.» Yesterday, an aide to the 78-year-old leader said Denktash is better after a second heart operation on Sunday in New York.