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2002-01-15 12:37:15

Nicosia, Jan 15 (CNA) -- As the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides prepare for tomorrow's start of direct talks, under UN auspices, hardly anybody on either side of the divide is willing to make any predictions as to the outcome of this effort.

This latest attempt to find a negotiated settlement of the protracted Cyprus question is set to be a long and arduous task, involving Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, their respective advisers and UN Secretary General's Special Adviser for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto, who arrived here from New York with a view to facilitate the negotiations and intervene as necessary.

The Greek Cypriot side appears somewhat restraint in its expectations, in spite of what political observers call "the prevailing good climate" following the recent social encounters between Clerides and Denktash.

Public statements from Ankara and Denktash over the past few weeks seem to leave little room for hope that the Turkish side has had a change of heart with regard to its long standing position for two separate states on the island, something the Greek Cypriot side has repeatedly said it rejects.

"We are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. If Denktash has the green light from Ankara, and Ankara is a lot of things including the military, then Denktash can get a settlement. If he hasn't got it, his move is only tactical and this will show at the negotiating table," Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said here today in statements to the press.

The minister said the Greek Cypriot side goes to the direct talks with an open mind, adding that "both sides have to acknowledge the concerns of the other and we are ready to address the concerns of the Turkish Cypriot side."|

"Our main concern is to ensure that in the agreed overall solution there are no elements that would allow the legal partition of the country," Kasoulides said, replying to questions, stressing that the Greek Cypriot "says no to two sovereign states, and yes to one state, one country for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots."

On the role of de Soto at the talks, Kasoulides said he believed that initially the UN top envoy on Cyprus would leave the two leaders "to unfold their thinking and try by themselves to see areas were one can reach the other," and that he would try to intervene in the debate later on.

As for the "chemistry" between Clerides and Denktash and how this might affect the talks, Kasoulides said the two veteran politicians know each other and can deliver and pass it on to the people of Cyprus.

This time round, we should aim at a comprehensive settlement that will leave nothing to be decided at a later stage, the minister said, and pointed out that "we should agree on everything even if today we agree on certain things for tomorrow."

Commenting on entry into the European Union, without prior solution, he said the Cyprus question is a European problem, whether Cyprus is a member of the EU or not.

"The Cyprus problem will remain in the UN domain, even if Cyprus joins the EU without a solution, and efforts to find a settlement will continue through the UN so the problem will not be a topic of discussion within EU institutions," Kasoulides said.

"I cannot see what additional problems an unresolved Cyprus problem would bring into the EU," he added.

He expressed the conviction that should EU membership take place before a settlement it will have a catalytic effect to the Cyprus question and the division of the island will not last for too long after accession.

Cyprus opened accession negotiations with the EU in 1998 and has so far provisionally closed 24 out of 29 chapters of the acquis communautaire.

The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.

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