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2002-01-07 13:46:46

Nicosia, Jan 7 (CNA) -- Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides believes there is a good chance to reach a settlement, prior to Cyprus' accession to the European Union, if the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is sincere in his desire to find one, adding that by June it is reasonable to expect major results, should a frank disposition be displayed by Denktash at the UN-led direct talks that begin here next week.
Addressing a lunch hosted by CNA for foreign correspondents, the minister stressed that certain legal instruments, such as UN Security Council resolutions, cannot be marginalized in the peace effort and noted that a solution should take into account the legitimate concerns of both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot sides.

Kasoulides gave full marks of approval to the firm position the EU has adopted with regard to the Republic's accession and indicated that the change of heart in Ankara and in Denktash's own positions is due to a great extent to the EU.

The minister also gave credit for the change in the Turkish stance to the firm position taken by the Security Council and that of the US on this matter. Washington told Ankara that it is not in a position to prevent Cyprus' accession, even without a settlement.

However he warned that should Brussels propose accession of only part of the Republic of Cyprus, a candidate country, Nicosia's reply will be a straight forward "no, thank you."

Kasoulides considers there is "ample time" to find a settlement before accession, if Denktash is sincere in his desire for a settlement and referred to June as an indicative time that should show whether there is progress towards a settlement.|

"We are going to go through one of the most important phases of the negotiations for the resolution of the problem of Cyprus and by the end of the year we will be concluding the accession negotiations and a decision will be expected to be made regarding our accession to the Union," Kasoulides said.

Stressing the importance of the start of direct negotiations, on 16 January, the minister pointed out that President Clerides walked the extra mile and responded positively to Denktash's invitation for a meeting in early December.

The Greek Cypriot side, he said, is well aware of the fact that by acting the way it did, Denktash and Turkey came temporarily off the serious pressure they were under, after their rejection of an invitation by Kofi Annan to return to the peace talks in early September.

Our stance has also helped Denktash and Turkey to relieve themselves from the domestic pressure they were under, he said.

Kasoulides acknowledged that public statements from occupied Cyprus and Ankara are not "very encouraging" but stressed that if Denktash is sincere at the talks, then there is a possibility and ample time to find a settlement.

He referred to two possibilities in the months ahead, as far as the peace effort is concerned, if Denktash is not sincere in his wish to find a settlement. He explained that Denktash would either attempt to get engaged in protracted negotiations with a view to delay, if possible, Cyprus' EU membership or to attempt to share the blame of a possible failure of the talks with the Greek Cypriot side.

"By June it is reasonable to expect major results and I am not setting June as a deadline but as an indicative time," the minister stressed, adding that his personal evaluation is that if by June nothing happens in the dialogue, it would have no meaning.

Replying to questions, he said the peace talks have no agenda as such and said that as things stand there will be advisers at the talks for both leaders.

He said that in view of the talks, there may be a statement by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to encourage the two sides or to express contentment that the talks resume.

On the role of Annan's special adviser Alvaro de Soto at the talks, Kasoulides said the UN official will continue to facilitate the peace process, in accordance with the terms of his mandate.

"At a certain point of the procedure, he will make his contribution with suggestions, ideas or papers, I would exclude nothing and possibly at the beginning he would prefer to listen," he said, adding that previous UN work cannot be disregarded and that in the early stages of the talks everybody is likely to be very careful in their approach and moves.

He said at the talks both sides have to respond to the legitimate concerns of either side and pointed out that the main concern of the Greek Cypriots is to ensure that the solution does not contain any elements that would create the possibility for a legalization of the partition of Cyprus.

The terms of the settlement should be clearly set out in a way that would not allow any misinterpretation, he said.

Replying to questions, the minister said that certain legal instruments cannot be set aside at the talks, and these include Security Council resolutions, the European Convention of Human Rights and the acquis communautaire.

Asked if a Turkish Cypriot could become president of a federal state of Cyprus, Kasoulides said there is such a chance if the Turkish Cypriots accept a common electoral roster.

He explained that the Turkish Cypriot claim for a rotating presidency to ensure, purportedly political equality, essentially means that a small percentage of the Cypriot population (eligible voters among the Turkish Cypriots who make up 18 per cent of the population) will be electing the president of the country.

On the issue of missing persons, he said Denktash has given an "expression of good intention" and the 1997 Clerides-Denktash agreement on this issue "can pave the way for a resolution of this humanitarian issue."

The agreement provided for the exchange of information on the location of graves and the return of remains to their families for proper burial.

He expressed hope that Friday's meeting between the President and Denktash might result in agreement for some move on the issue of missing persons.

On the forthcoming meeting between US President George Bush and the Turkish premier Bulent Ecevit, Kasoulides said he expects President Bush to make it clear to PM Ecevit that the US wants very strongly a solution this year and that Ankara should be contributing to this effort.

On EU matters in relation to the peace effort, the minister said that "most of the credit for the major change in the Turkish position so far as the preconditions to attend the dialogue are concerned goes to the European Union and its firm position that by the end of the year the EU will take a decision on Cyprus accession, which is expected to be positive, irrespective of a political settlement."

The Security Council position and that of the US have triggered a very interesting debate in occupied Cyprus and Turkey itself that provoked such explicit criticism of Denktash for his policies that led to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots that made him change his attitude vis a vis at least his refusal to attend peace talks.

The intense debate in Turkey, he added, was also a factor that affected the position of Ankara in that its policies on Cyprus was creating serious problems in Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

Should no settlement be reached, the EU should proceed with its decision on the accession of Cyprus, something that would create such pressure on both sides of the divide that they would feel under pressure not to allow the division of the island to last for a long time, after membership.

The EU said a political settlement is preferable but it is not a precondition for accession.

Commenting on remarks attributed to EU Commissioner Gunter Verheugen that "only the Greek part" of the island will join, if there is no settlement, the minister stressed in no uncertain terms that the government will reject any such notion of having only part of the Republic join the Union.

"There is no question as far as the government of Cyprus is concerned to accept the accession of only part of the country, if this is what is proposed to us, our answer will be 'no thank you'," he said, underlining that such a possibility has never been raised to the government by third parties.

On government efforts to inform the people of Cyprus about EU matters, the minister said attempts through various means and methods (seminars, training sessions, lectures, visits) are ongoing but indicated that more effort needs to be made to "reach the public at large."

He said these efforts are also addressed to the Turkish Cypriots and have to counter propaganda from Denktash to the effect that accession would mean union with Greece.

Kasoulides said the government has been positive about informing the Turkish Cypriots, but expressed regret that visits across the dividing line with regard to this specific issue depend on Denktash, who often blocks them.

Commenting on the introduction of the euro in the EU, in relation to Cyprus, he said it would be beneficial for Cyprus to join the euro as early as possible and dismissed any suggestions to devalue the Cyprus pound.

He indicated that it might be a good idea to contemplate the proposal by Cyprus' EU chief negotiator to allow the use of the euro in the tourist industry.

Welcoming the foreign minister at the lunch, CNA Board Chairman Harilaos Papadopoulos thanked the minister for attending the lunch, saying this was an "innovation" on the part of the Agency and hoped it would be repeated.

He also referred to plans to upgrade the organization and its activities and services to take advantage of the new technologies and invited foreign correspondents to come forward with their ideas or suggestions with a view to accommodating them to the largest possible extent.


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