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Financial Times (London), November 22, 2002
2002-11-23 10:20:19

Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader who is recovering from heart surgery in New York, will not respond to a United Nations plan to reunite Cyprus until he has returned home and consulted Turkish Cypriots and the new Turkish government in Ankara, a top aide said yesterday.

"The president believes the way forward is through negotiation, but while negotiating one needs a basic strategy and co-ordination on different issues," Ergun Olgun, presidential undersecretary to Mr Denktash, told the Financial Times. "The first priority is to hold the consultations and take it from there." Glafcos Clerides, the Greek-Cypriot president, has already accepted the UN proposal for a loose Swiss-style confederation of "component states" with a weak central state. Mr Olgun was responding to a question about a Turkish Cypriot media interview in which Mr Denktash, whose Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara, said that "unless the deficiencies . . . are removed, we cannot accept the plan as forming a basis (for negotiation)."

He hoped that Mr Denktash would leave hospital today after responding to treatment for an infection of the surgery wound which "could have killed him" had it spread to his aorta, replaced in a heart operation earlier this month.

Doctors would also have to decide when he would be fit to travel, said Mr Olgun, adding that it was not possible to discuss a 150-page document over telephones which were not secure.

Mr Denktash's stance is of vital interest to the international community, desperate for a settlement before the European Union considers at its December 12-13 summit in Copenhagen whether to admit Cyprus, without a deal if necessary.

The accession of a divided island would exclude the Turkish Cypriots, who control a third of the island, import a messy dispute into the EU, and hurt Turkey's own bid to secure at Copenhagen a date to start EU accession talks.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, had set a deadline of Monday this week for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to respond to his plan, which aims to use the pressure of the EU deadline to end 40 years of deadlock.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's unofficial leader, has said that although he supports the UN plan as a basis for negotiations, an accord is "impossible" before Copenhagen because of Mr Denktash's ill-health.

Mr Erdogan acknowledged in London on Wednesday that the Cyprus question was linked to Turkey's bid to secure, at Copenhagen, a timetable for starting accession talks.

Support for the Turkish government's more conciliatory approach came from an unexpected quarter on Wednesday, when Kenan Evren, Turkish land forces commander during the 1974 intervention, pointed out that Turkey had deliberately seized extra land in Cyprus as a bargaining chip in a future settlement.

The Turkish side could therefore afford to give up territory - a notion opposed by Turkish hardliners in a growing domestic debate about Cyprus - as part of an overall compromise solution, said General Evren. The general cannot be accused by hardliners of being weak-kneed - he led a much-criticised coup in 1980.

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