UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)–Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders on Friday accepted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for unifying Cyprus before its May 1 entry into the European Union–after four days of talks between the parties at the United Nations.
"The parties have reached an agreement within a framework that the secretary-general has put out," Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal told reporters.
Negotiations on details of the plan to reunify the island–split into ethnic Greek and Turkish areas since the 1974 invasion by Turkey–will begin on Feb. 19 in Cyprus–officials said.
"We have achieved a resumption of the talks under the auspices of the secretary-general," said Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos. But diplomats warned the road ahead would still not be an easy one.
"We expect long and tiring work ahead of us," Ziyal said.
After three days of talks in New York that extended into the early morning hours of Friday–Annan had asked the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north–which is recognized only by Turkey–to either sign or reject his page-and-a-half plan for the conduct of the final negotiations.
His intention was for both Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to commit in advance to submitting the results of those negotiations to separate referendums in the north and in the south on April 21.
When the talks broke up in the early hours of Friday morning–the Greek Cypriot side was insisting on bringing European Union experts into the negotiation process while the Turkish Cypriot side strongly opposed that idea.
OVERNIGHT BARRAGE OF DIPLOMACY
But an overnight barrage of diplomacy by the United States and Britain–the former colonial power–convinced the Greek side to back down–diplomats close to the talks said.
Turkey–whose own efforts to start talks to join the European Union hinge on the Cyprus peace process–had also been pushing Denktash to reach a deal.
Denktash–widely blamed for the collapse of peace talks last year–had surprised the Greek Cypriot side this week by accepting Annan’s demand that the two sides reach agreement on a text by the end of March and submit it to separate referendums on April 21.
The stakes could not be higher for both Cyprus and Turkey. Without a settlement–Cyprus would enter the European Union on May 1 as a divided island and be represented only by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.
This would deepen the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and could derail Turkey’s own bid to open entry talks with the EU in early 2005.
Turkish troops occupied the north of the island 30 years ago in response to a coup in Nicosia–engineered by the junta then ruling Greece.
Annan wants the parties to do their best to work out their differences by March 26–after which he would work with the parties to fill in the blanks in time for them to be put to a vote.