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Media Watch 2003

20 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 20 May 2003 written by staff reporter.
Verheugen eyes Cyprus deal before accession

THE EUROPEAN Union's top enlargement official yesterday expressed cautious optimism that a peace settlement for Cyprus was still possible before the divided island joins the bloc next May.

UN-led talks aimed at ending Cyprus' decades-old division collapsed in March, raising the prospect that only the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot half of the island would join the wealthy EU on May 1, 2004.

But last month, veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash -- widely blamed for the failure of the UN talks -- eased tensions by allowing the opening of checkpoints between the two halves of the island for the first time in nearly 30 years.

"I believe a window of opportunity will present itself before May 1, 2004, but I can't exclude that this is too optimistic and that the window will open only before the end of October 2004," said Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen.

The European Commission is due to complete a report at that time on Turkey's readiness to begin accession negotiations.

EU leaders will decide whether to take that step, on the basis of the Commission report, in December 2004. Turkey, the only country to recognise Denktash's Turkish Cypriot statelet in northern Cyprus, is very keen to start EU accession talks.

Verheugen, speaking to reporters after talks with Foreign Minister George Iakovou, said he would visit both halves of the island next month.

The EU is expected to ease economic restrictions against the Turkish Cypriots and unveil an aid package for their region.

A divided Cyprus in the EU could cement the partition and would certainly undermine Turkey's own efforts to join the bloc.

Verheugen praised the recent flurry of border crossings by Greek and Turkish Cypriots as proof that the two communities had the "capacity, the will, to live in peace". "