UNITED NATIONS – After a three day intensive negotiations in New York, which included a session lasting more than 12 hours on Friday , the two communities of Cyprus made an important breakthrough agreeing on procedures for talks that could end the island’s division before it joins the EU on May 1.
“We have not solved the problem,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned. “But I really believe that after 40 years, a political settlement is at least in reach, provided both sides summon the necessary political will.”
The Greek and Turkish sides agreed to a compromise offered by Annan which allows Greece and Turkey to take part in the negotiations while the European Commission will offer technical assistance. Negotiations between Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will begin on Thursday (Feb. 19) in Cyprus, in the presence of Annan’s special representative, Alvaro de Soto. They will continue until March 22. If no agreement is reached, Annan will summon Greece and Turkey for a concerted effort to finalize the plan by March 29. If there is still no deal, Annan will fill in the blanks and call separate referenda on the island.
The pressure on the Greek Cypriot side was tremendous. US administration warned that the issue will go to the “back burner” if a solution won’t be found until May 1, 2004.
The United States has been a strong supporter of Turkey’s aspiration to join the EU. President Bush met recently with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House, and Secretary of State Colin Powell prodded both Cypriot parties along this week as talks seemed to stumble. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the US warmly welcomes the announcement by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the parties on Cyprus have committed to resume negotiations on the basis of his peace plan, and to submit the resulting settlement to referenda for approval in time for a reunited island to join the EU on May 1st.
Speaking during his daily briefing on Friday, Boucher said that ”this step came about thanks to the constructive spirit and political will of all the parties”.
Boucher noted that the United States and particularly Secretary of State Colin Powell will continue to provide appropriate support to the Secretary-General’s efforts in reaching a successful conclusion.
Alvaro de Soto, the Peruvian diplomat who has been Annan’s special envoy on Cyprus, acknowledged help from the United States and the three “guarantor nations” who helped push the deal through: Greece, Turkey and Britain. But he said that Cypriots themselves must recognize the value of reconciliation for the pact to work.
“What we are relying on most heavily is the self-interest of all the parties involved . . . in solving this problem on its own merits,” de Soto said Friday.
Asked by GreekNews what his actions were Thurday night as he left the UN headquarters and it was believed the talks were on the verge of a collapse, Secretary General Kofi Annan said “obviously I am very pleased that we are where we are, and I hope the parties are going home satisfied and pleased and I hope the people of Cyprus are happy and will encourage their leaders to sustain the leadership and wisdom they have demonstrated over the next three months so we can work in a sustained manner and good spirit and get a united Cyprus into the EU”.
He explained that he when left at 8pm local time, “we had a text that the parties were looking at and they all had rooms on the 33rd floor”.
”The four delegations had a room each, and Alvaro was shuttling between them to see they would agree to the proposal I had put to them, and they worked rather late”, he added.
Annan said “in the end we did get the agreement and we met at 10.30 this morning and everybody signed on”.
”So we are very pleased and of course all the interested parties from around the world also encouraged them to really not miss this opportunity. So we had lots of support from around the world so there is lots of good will for the people of Cyprus, lots of expectation that a united Cyprus will enter the EU and I think we should not let down the people, not miss this chance for your leaders to make history”, he added.