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Reuters Interview with President Papadopoulos
2005-05-05 10:02:29

By Brian Williams

Nicosia, May 5 (Reuters) - Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos doubts if a deal to reunite his Greek Cypriots with Turkish Cypriots can be reached before Turkey starts talks to join the European Union in October.

But in an interview with Reuters, Papadopoulos signalled he would only use a veto over Turkey's possible EU membership as a last resort if Turkey failed to live up to entry requirements including the future of long-divided Cyprus.

With international efforts under way again to revive United Nations-sponsored Cyprus peace talks that broke down last year over Greek Cypriot opposition, Papadopoulos warned against a rush to reach a flawed agreement.

Papadopoulos said Cyprus did not want a repetition of the last peace negotiations in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected in a referendum a deal drawn up by the United Nations. Turkish Cypriots voted for the deal.

"BAD EXPERIENCE"

Asked if a deal was possible by October 3 when Turkey starts EU talks, Papadopoulos replied: "The proper answer is there is always time to reach agreement. Practically however, since we have not yet started the talks, it is very hard to predict."

"We have had a bad experience once, that time limits don't work, people feel under pressure, people at large eventually feel that they are being pushed into a corner due to technical timetables and this is not very productive," he added.

"When we enter the talks the next time around we must have a reasonable expectation for success. For that to happen talks have to be prepared very well beforehand and we are in the process of doing that." Papadopoulos, a 71-year-old lawyer whose term in office does not end for three more years, said the previous plan was flawed because it did not bring about the reunification of Cyprus but instead prolonged divisions.

Turkish Cypriots make up a little over one-quarter of the Mediterranean island's population and occupy about one-third of its area.

Asked what was the biggest gesture Turkey could make to get a deal on reunification of Cyprus, Papadopoulos replied that Ankara should withdraw an estimated 30,000 troops on the island.

"Our view is that the crux of the Cyprus issue, which people seem to forget, is the invasion and occupation of Cyprus by Turkey," he said. "We are talking of an important step which Turkey has to take. It must be to cease the occupation of our country to withdraw its troops from there."

CYPRUS BACKS EU MEMBERSHIP IN PRINCIPLE

Defending his reluctance so far to spell out -- as requested by the United Nations -- exactly what changes Greek Cypriots wanted in a new deal, Papadopoulos said: "I don't know anybody who enters negotiations and he gives his bottom line up front."

Papadopoulos said he believed world opinion was finally coming round to realising why Greek Cypriots rejected the earlier deal.

"I think more people now appreciate the reasons the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan," Papadopoulos said.

Some of the strongest Greek Cypriot opposition to the plan was over provisions it would allow Turkish troops to stay on the island indefinitely, disputes about property ownership, population transfers and fears that a complex power-sharing structure could easily fall apart.

Papadopoulos said he was not against Turkey joining the EU as long as it was ready to honour obligations of EU membership including relations with Cyprus as an existing EU member.

"We have no specific intention of exercising a veto," Papadopoulos said. "Therefore as long as Turkey complies with its obligations we have no reason to exercise a veto. Definitely we have no desire to do so."

The talks starting on October 3 are just the first of many steps for Turkey in a process which is not likely to lead to its possible membership for another decade.

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