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Media Watch 2004

14 February 2004
Source: Guardian
Author: Helena Smith
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 14 February 2004.
Cypriot leaders hand over to UN
"...until the end of March to try to iron out some of the plan's thornier details. These include the right of return for nearly 200,000 Greek refugees... The island's predominantly Greek northern third was seized by Turkish troops who have occupied it ever since..."

Deal hopes rise as Annan allowed to set vote terms

The chances of a settlement in Cyprus before its May 1 EU accession date rose dramatically last night after Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to let the UN secretary general take ultimate charge of the process.

Under the agreement Kofi Annan would set the terms of a referendum to be held on both sides of the divided island if further talks failed.

"As a final resort, in the event of a continuing and persistent deadlock, the parties have invited me to use my discretion to finalise the text to be submitted to the referenda on the basis of my plan," Mr Annan told a news conference.

The breakthrough comes after intense UN and EU pressure on Greece and Turkey to end the 30-year old stalemate and open the way for the accession of a united Cyprus to the EU. A settlement would remove one of the main obstacles to Turkey's eventual membership.

"Following three days of meetings and consultations, I am pleased to announce that the parties have committed to negotiations in good faith on the basis of my plan," Mr Annan said. However all sides warned of the potential pitfalls ahead. The Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, told reporters in Ankara: "There is still a lot of work to do. It is not all over yet. We must all be very careful. For a lasting peace, the realities of the island must be taken into account."

The landmark agreement came after three days of often tortuous meetings in New York, including a marathon session that dragged on yesterday morning, between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, and Greek and Turkish diplomats. The two sides agreed to reconvene next Thursday in Nicosia, the island's divided capital.
Under the terms agreed yesterday the two sides will have until March 22 to reach a deal on the basis of UN proposals that envisage Cyprus reuniting as a loose federation of two ethnic "component" states.

If that fails, Turkey and Greece will join in talks to try to resolve the issue by the end of March. Athens and Ankara, in cooperation with the Greek and Turkish leaderships, would then have until the end of March to try to iron out some of the plan's thornier details. These include the right of return for nearly 200,000 Greek refugees and the amount of territory the minority Turkish Cypriots would be prepared to surrender.

If these talks fail, Mr Annan will step in. "I have the right to complete the plan, with a goal of a final text by March 29," he said. The Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, said: "This is the beginning of the process. The entire issue is to reach an outcome while protecting our people's rights."

The acting Greek foreign minister, Tassos Giannitsis, said: "This day opens a new historic opportunity for the resolution of the Cyprus problem. This means that we are disentangled from stalemate."

Mr Annan praised the progress made. "The secretary general commends the constructive spirit and political will displayed by both parties, as well as by Greece and Turkey, to reach this agreement," his spokesman said. "All concerned now face historic responsibilities to bring about a just and lasting peace."

The island has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded, prompted by an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting it with Greece. The island's predominantly Greek northern third was seized by Turkish troops who have occupied it ever since.

Cyprus was accepted into the EU, with nine other central and east European countries, this year. If the island is still split on May 1 only the internationally recognised Greek-controlled south will join the club. The Turkish Cypriots will be left out.

Greek Cypriots' fears of jeopardising their membership is believed to have been at the base of their agreement to resume talks. Mr Denktash has come under immense pressure from Turkey to resolve the dispute in the wake of warnings that it could prejudice Ankara's own desire to join the EU. The European Commission yesterday welcomed what it described as a "historical breakthrough".

Quoting European Commission president Romano Prodi it said: "The commission considers that the chances for a comprehensive settlement have never been better.""