Greek Ambassador: No dramatic change in occupied north
by Katerina Nicolaou
Nicosia, Apr 27 (CNA) -- The transfer of power in the Turkish Cypriot leadership, following a recent poll in occupied Cyprus, cannot be seen as a ''dramatic change'', believes Christos Panagopoulos, Greek Ambassador in Nicosia, pointing out that thousands of Turkish troops and settlers still remain on the island.
In an interview with CNA, shortly before the end of his posting here, Panagopoulos stressed that the cornerstone of a Cyprus solution lies in Ankara, adding that he can only hope that the newly elected ''president'' Mehmet Ali Talat will prove to be the springboard for real change in the intransigent stance of the Turkish side.
He noted that the European perspective, with Cyprus a member of the European Union and Turkey aspiring to become a member, can still act as a catalyst for a just and viable Cyprus settlement, only this time round, he points out, talks must take place without arbitration, suffocating deadlines or resort to referenda without a prior agreement between the island's two communities.
Panagopoulos served in Cyprus for the past five years during which he witnessed a change of government in both Greece and Cyprus, the achievement of the ''strategic goal'' of the island's EU accession, in addition to last year's UN-led negotiations and its aftermath, when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN-sponsored solution plan (the Annan Plan).
Against this background Papanagopoulos has warned against a new failure in the efforts for a settlement, which, he said, could lead to an ''open crisis''.
''In the case of Cyprus, the process to be followed is of the utmost importance. We agree with the process Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has defined. We do not want any suffocating deadlines, which could lead to unbearable pressure on the parties, as we experienced at the latest effort last year. Furthermore, only an agreed solution will be put to any referendum and there should be no arbitration either'', he said.
Responding to questions, he explained that there is an understanding about the process of a new round of talks but there is also an obligation on the part of the Greek side to raise these matters at every given opportunity to ensure that there will no be arbitration and that all issues will be agreed on at the negotiating table.
Noting that at ''Turkey's European examinations, Cyprus will be one of the examiners'', he said that there is now a ''tool'' at the disposal of the Cypriot side to help the effort towards a negotiated settlement that would be just and viable.
Asked about Greece's role, as a guarantor power, in the peace effort in Cyprus, he said that ''a lot of work is being done'', which very often is not in the public domain.
He said Cyprus is increasingly consolidating its presence and position as an EU member state and noted that the reasons for which Greek Cypriots rejected last year the UN-proposed solution plan are gradually becoming clear and accepted.
''Cyprus' EU membership places the country in a different position. European leaders cannot demand from President Papadopoulos to accept something they would not be able to accept for their own people'', said the Greek diplomat, adding that on a political level it is becoming more and more obvious that there must be changes to the Annan plan.
He described Cyprus' accession to the EU a ''vindication, rarely witnessed, of a strategic goal'' whose full potential and benefit has not been realised yet because of the continuing Turkish occupation of the island's northern part.
''Of course there are problems, but these problems are now common for the 25. The EU is a one-way street where Cyprus has possibilities for cooperation not only with Greece but with the rest 24 EU member- states in all fields and especially the political and the economic'', Panagopoulos said.
Concluding he expressed Greece's support to rapprochement between the two communities, stressing that the partial lifting of restrictions on free movement to and from the occupied areas has proven that former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash was wrong in his long-standing position that the two communities could not live together.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 per cent of its territory.