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Media Watch 2004

13 February 2004
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author:
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 13 February 2004.
Cliffhanger in New York


GREEK and Turkish Cypriots negotiated at U.N. headquarters for a third straight day on Thursday, cautiously optimistic a deal was within reach to reunite Cyprus before it joins the European Union on May 1.

"I think there will be some sort of agreement today. But it will be a long time until May," said one diplomat close to the talks, hinting of the difficult negotiations yet to come.

Other envoys cautioned against optimism, however, noting that international efforts to bring together the divided Mediterranean island had failed for the past three decades.

The talks had been due to begin at 3pm but got under way more than two hours late as UN negotiators shuttled between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides, each temporarily housed in separate UN offices.

After a one-hour joint meeting, the talks broke and a fresh round of shuttle talks began as we went to press at 2am. Some reports said that the delegations would stay on in New York for another day.

Technical talks in Nicosia were expected to resume early next week, probably Wednesday.

Timetable

Prospects for an agreement, which would lead to the start of technical talks in Cyprus on the line-by-line details of a reunification plan, improved after Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash proposed a tight timetable that appeared to satisfy a key condition set out by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is hosting the talks.

Denktash has been widely blamed for derailing an earlier round of talks last March,
and his proposal appeared to take the Greek Cypriot side by surprise.

Its mentor Greece said it was still weighing the proposal in close contact with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is leading the Greek Cypriot delegation at the U.N. talks.

Insistence

But the Turkish Cypriot timetable broadly incorporated Annan's insistence that the parties agree in advance to submit any final agreement to separate referendums in the Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south on April 21.

Annan wants a quick agreement in New York on ground rules for the later technical talks in Cyprus intended to resolve disagreements over the fine points of a reunification deal.

He wants Papadopoulos and Denktash to accept a previously drafted U.N. blueprint as the basis for their work, and he wants the negotiations wrapped up by late March.

At that point, he wants to be able to fill in any blanks in a peace deal that would then be put to a vote.

But both sides have strongly resisted Annan's demand that he be allowed in advance to set terms on points on which the parties cannot agree.

Denktash's new proposal would try to get around that problem by giving Turkey and Greece a last chance to work out disagreements before they are submitted to Annan.

The Greek Cypriots, for their part, have called for EU involvement in the Cyprus negotiations, to ensure that any final deal conforms with EU law.

Questioned

Greek Cypriot envoys have also questioned whether a new UN Security Council resolution would be needed to authorise Annan to make decisions in place of the parties.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied the north of the island in response to a coup in Nicosia engineered by the junta then ruling Greece.

Turkey alone recognises Denktash's statelet and still bases some 30,000 troops there, while the Greek Cypriot government, with fewer than 5,000 Greek troops on its soil, is widely recognized and will enter the European Union with or without a reunification deal.

Turkey, fearful that failure to reach an agreement will wreck its own chances of entering the EU, has put heavy pressure on Denktash to reach a deal. The European Union and United States have also pushed hard for an agreement."