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De Soto appeals to leaders to seize opportunity
2003-01-14 19:21:07

Nicosia, Jan 13 (CNA) - The UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, said this was the decisive period for Cyprus and appealed to the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, to seize the opportunity.

He also sent a message that ''a great and historic responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and on their leaders'', called on them to ''focus on the task at hand'' and stressed that the choice before them and the people was not between the revised plan submitted by the UN Secretary General and a substantially different one, but that ''the choice is between this plan, perhaps with balanced refinements here and there as needed, and no agreement at all''.

He wondered whether a reunited Cyprus would become ''a beacon of cooperation between Greece and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean maintaining the balance between them and strengthening Turkey's move towards European Union membership, or will a divided Cyprus continue to strain relations between Greece and Turkey and vis-a-vis Europe''.

Noting he ''would describe this as the decisive period'', de Soto said he was very pleased that ''the possibility remains opens because of the willingness of both sides to continue to negotiate on the basis of the Secretary General's plan''.

He agreed with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash's statement that if no settlement was reached by February 28 it did not mean the end of the world but noted that it did rather ''diminish the realistic possibilities of a settlement any time soon''.|

Asked how feasible it was to achieve the goal by the end of February and how he intended to go about it, de Soto replied that ''we are not starting from scratch, a lot has preceded this''.

''However, if the two sides respect the overall balance and are focused on the approach they take in any changes that they might feel necessary to make and are ready to give as well as to take, it should be possible'', he said.

He added that ''clearly, unilateral changes only in favour of one side are not likely to be acceptable to the other''.

To a remark that from his statement it seems that the agreement is a take it or leave it situation, de Soto replied ''the parties can propose amendments, so long as they bear in mind the need to preserve the overall balance, so long as they realise they want to take something beyond what is offered to them in it, they have to be prepared to give something in exchange as well. That is not take or leave it, as I see it'', he clarified.

De Soto said he would be discussing with Clerides and Denktash ''how we can quickly resume work''. The method the two agreed in December 2001 was direct talks, he said, but because of Denktash's health it was not possible, adding he would discuss that with the Turkish Cypriot leader.

Asked what would happen if there was no solution by February 28, de Soto replied he is not very fond of answering ''what if'' questions.

The UN diplomat said his intention was not to resort to scare tactics, explaining that given the time factor and the difficulties how things would change as of signature of the EU Accession Treaty by a divided Cyprus, ''that that would prove a rather serious setback to the prospect for a settlement, so I feel that it would be important to seize the opportunity that exists now because of the uncertainty in the future''.

Regarding his talks in Turkey, de Soto said he comes away ''with the impression that Turkey is determined to support the goal of achieving a complete settlement before the end of February'', adding that he has had consultations with the Foreign Ministry and has met the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ''and there is a unanimity on that''.

De Soto also said the two ad hoc technical committees, agreed on 4 October 2002, are expected to intensify their important and voluminous work this week, although they are already ''working very hard, every day''.

In his opening remarks, de Soto said ''we are now on a pretty tight timeframe'', noting that the plan which foresees an agreement on a comprehensive settlement with all political issues resolved between the two leaders, all security issues between Greece and Turkey resolved, and all technical work completed by February 28, ''would allow just enough time for separate referenda to be prepared and conducted to enable the people to take an educated decision on March 30''.

If the referenda is positive, then a new state of affairs in Cyprus comes into being on March 31, allowing ''just two weeks to put in place certain basic parts of the new institutions of the common state, and allow the EU to revise and approve the terms of the Accession Treaty...so that a reunited Cyprus could sign the Treaty of Accession in Athens on April 16'', he said, noting that by this date, the new state of affairs must be in place and up-and-running''.

The UN diplomat said that in his November 11 plan, the Secretary General crystallised inchoate trade-offs that were emerging from the talks, and made bridging proposals where gaps remained. After further negotiations, improvements were made and a revised plan suggested on December 10, adding that as it stands, the plan represents what Kofi Annan believes is ''a fair and honourable compromise which addresses the core interests, aims, concerns and even nightmares of each side''.

De Soto further said he would be in Athens for consultations on Thursday, and expected to head back to Ankara again soon.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 percent of the island's territory.


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