Crucial time for Cyprus

Prime Minister Costas Simitis briefed leaders of the opposition parties yesterday on a «crucial» phase in the Cyprus issue and on the deal agreed to by Athens, opening the way for the EU’s defense force. He achieved consensus on Cyprus but not on the Euroforce. After the separate meetings, Simitis warned that the Cyprus issue was in a critical phase and that consensus was necessary. The EU is to decide at its summit in December whether 10 countries, including Cyprus, will become members in 2004. In the next few weeks, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to present a proposal for Cyprus’s reunification. The US State Department coordinator for Cyprus, Thomas Weston, was optimistic at the end of a four-day visit to the island yesterday. «It is clear to all of us that we are in a period where we really do have a very good opportunity to get what we’ve been working on for a long, long time, which is a just and durable solution to the division of the island,» he said. Rumors say the UN could suggest a federation of two states, based on the Belgian model, with a federal government taking care of defense, foreign and economic policy. «We must be aware that in the course of Cyprus’s EU accession (in the next few weeks or months) we might face difficult questions. We may be called on to make crucial decisions,» Simitis said. «We need consensus and to keep cool heads in order to move ahead,» he said. «With national consensus we must all pursue what is best for Cyprus and our country.» New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis said Cyprus’s impending accession to the EU was a positive development and should be completed in December regardless of whether the island’s division had ended. Regarding Annan’s possible proposal, he said, «The plan must be in accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council and the acquis communautaire.» He claimed the Euroforce «should not have been made the subject of a trade-off with other issues,» adding that «the development is not good for the country’s interests.»  The government denies waiving objections to the Euroforce in exchange for Cyprus’s EU accession. The deal says no members of the EU or NATO (such as Turkey) could threaten violence against another member or question its borders. Communist Party chief Aleka Papariga said the Cyprus issue was in a difficult phase and Ankara could react badly if it did not agree with a proposed solution.