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Nicosia, Feb 26 (CNA) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is currently President of the European Council, reassured here today that the EU would take its decision on Cyprus' accession to the EU irrespective of the progress or outcome of UN-led direct talks, aiming at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the protracted Cyprus question.

Speaking after a working lunch with Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, during a three-hour visit to the island, Aznar expressed the conviction that the Cyprus President's determination would give an impetus for a positive outcome of the peace talks and assured the Spanish Presidency is committed to applying the deadlines set out concerning the Union's enlargement.

In his remarks, President Clerides said "our goal is a reunited Cyprus that could speak with one voice in the Union and implement effectively the EU acquis communautaire and policies."

He added that he had assured the European Council's President that "we will make every possible effort for a viable solution of the Cyprus problem, based on relevant UN resolutions, high-level agreements and the acquis communautaire."|

Speaking through an interpreter, Aznar said he visited Cyprus within the framework of his tour of candidate countries and that he had outlined to President Clerides the fundamental goals of the Spanish Presidency.

Aznar also underlined the commitment of the Spanish Presidency and the EU to the accession process and said he had congratulated Cyprus for its efforts to adopt the acquis communautaire, noting that these efforts are highlighted by the European Commission's progress reports for Cyprus.

"I notified the President of our determination to apply the deadlines set out for enlargement, so that we, the 15 members of the EU, will reach an agreement and negotiate with the candidate countries the chapters that the Spanish Presidency has assumed the task to conclude," the Spanish Premier said, adding that "this will allow us to make decisions concerning enlargement by the end of this year."

"All our efforts will aim at applying the deadlines at least during the Spanish Presidency," he added.

Referring to the Cyprus problem, Aznar recalled the 1999 EU Helsinki Council's conclusions, that the solution of the Cyprus problem is not a precondition for the island's accession to the EU, and expressed hope that ongoing direct talks between President Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash would safeguard stability, peace and security on the island.

"Progress in these talks will give an impetus to Cyprus' accession course but I would like to make it clear that the EU decision will be irrelevant to the progress and the outcome of the talks. This is the commitment made by the EU and I have assured President Clerides about this," Aznar said.

He also noted this was the first visit of a Spanish Prime Minister and of a President of the European Council to the island, noting that this shows Spain's interest in enhancing its relations with Cyprus.

In his remarks, President Clerides said the aim of Aznar's visit to the island was to brief the Cyprus government on the Spanish Presidency's task and "to exchange views on various issues related to the Union and especially Cyprus' accession course."

President Clerides said he had briefed the Spanish Premier on Cyprus' accession course and efforts to implement the acquis communautaire, as well as about developments in the Cyprus question.

Aznar's 90-minute working lunch with President Clerides was attended by the aides of the two leaders.

Aznar was accompanied by Secretary of State for European Affairs Ramon de Miguel, Director of the Department for International Relations and Defence of his office Ramon Gil-Casares and Spain's Ambassador to Cyprus Ignacio Garcia-Valdecasas.

The Cypriot delegation comprised Attorney General Alecos Markides, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, Minister of Finance Takis Klerides, Undersecretary to the President Pantelis Kouros, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Christodoulos Pasiardes, Director of the President's Office Christos Patsalides and Cyprus' Ambassador to Spain Athena Mavronicola.

Aznar and his aides departed for Spain via Malta at approximately 16:15 local time.

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

President Clerides and Denktash have been engaged since January 16 in direct talks to reach a settlement of the Cyprus problem. Talks were suspended on February 19, and will resume March 1.


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