EU Council welcomes Commission support for UN process
by Nicos Bellos
Brussels, Feb 24 (CNA) -- European Union Foreign Ministers and their counterparts from the ten acceding countries have welcomed the preparedness of the European Commission to support the UN Secretary General's renewed effort to find a settlement before Cyprus joins the Union on May 1 this year.
The General Affairs and External Relations Council, which met here Monday, also said it will accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.
Cyprus was represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Giorgos Iakovou who briefed his counterparts about the ongoing peace talks, under UN auspices.
The Council, having welcomed the agreement by the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides to resume negotiations, ''stressed its clear preference for the accession of united Cyprus on May 1 and its full support for Secretary General Annan's efforts for the conclusion of an agreement.''
The Council reiterated ''the willingness of the EU to accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.''
''The Council welcomed the preparedness of the European Commission to fulfil its supportive role, acknowledged by successive European Councils, by providing the assistance requested by the UN Secretary General,'' the conclusions of the Brussels meeting said.
EU Commissioner Gunter Verheugen outlined the current situation on the island, referred to EU involvement and said he is in touch with Annan. He seems to have indicated that it would be difficult to reach a solution in the next 25 days because there are many issues that need to be settled.
The agreement the two sides in Cyprus reached after four days of talks in New York says that they will aim at concluding their discussions by 22 March. If this does not happen, Turkey and Greece would have a role to play in helping the two sides bridge their differences and failing that Annan will fill in any remaining gaps.
In his remarks to the meeting, Iakovou said he was pleased that talks had resumed but noted the time restraints within which a settlement is sought.
He said for the first time Cyprus had accepted the cooperation of Greece and Turkey in the process and welcomed the setting up of a technical committee that would deal with the economy and financial problems that would emerge from a settlement.
Iakovou was critical of Ankara's tactics to have the agreement to be reached ratified after the separate referenda between the two communities.
He said Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash wants to reduce the number of Greek Cypriots who would return to their homes both under Greek Cypriot as well as under Turkish Cypriot administration.
Referring to the issue of illegal Turkish settlers, the minister said it is not clear how many of them would leave, noted damages to Greek Cypriots would be huge if all the settlers are allowed to remain on the island and doubted whether a donors' conference would be able to raise sufficient funding for compensation.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said negotiations are difficult but also pointed out that when there is a time framework many times talks do yield more results. He assured that Britain, a guarantor power, would fulfill its obligations with regard to the ratification of an agreement reached.
While in Brussels, Iakovou met with his French counterpart Dominique de Vilepin and Javier Solana, EU High Representative for foreign, security and defence policy.
The Cypriot minister told his interlocutors that Denktash is raising issues outside the framework of a UN plan on the basis of which negotiations are taking place and that the Turkish Cypriot leader refuses to acknowledge any involvement of the EU in the process.