Greece said Wednesday that a UN plan to reunify Cyprus was binding and must not be watered down. It was a tacit rebuke to efforts by Greek and Turkish Cypriots to amend the blueprint in negotiations.
In his first public comments on the dispute, the new foreign minister, Petros Molyviatis, stressed his government's commitment to reaching a deal to reunify Cyprus before it joins the European Union on May 1.
Turkey also expressed impatience at the lack of progress in Cyprus talks but focused on Greek Cypriots, accusing them of not wanting a deal.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots are holding intense negotiations, and failure would deepen the isolation of the poorer Turkish Cypriots and could harm Turkey's own bid to join the EU.
"Our first priority is obviously the Cyprus issue," Molyviatis told reporters in Athens. "This agreement is binding. It is very difficult, if not impossible to subvert."
Molyviatis, a veteran diplomat, was named foreign minister Tuesday in the New Democracy government, elected Sunday after a decade of Socialist rule.
The UN-brokered talks, which began Feb. 19 in Nicosia, have been dogged by recriminations and gamesmanship. The talks have been held almost daily between the Turkish Cypriots, who are led by Rauf Denktash, and the Greek Cypriots, who are led by Tassos Papadopoulos.
Without a settlement, the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south will join the EU in May and would then be considered to represent the whole of the island.
Ankara fears that Papadopoulos could then use his veto at an EU summit meeting in December to block the opening of entry talks with Turkey.
In Ankara, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Namik Tan, said the Greek Cypriots were deliberately dragging out the talks. He added that it was "clear the Greek Cypriot side does not have the political will" to find a solution and seemed "complacent because they are assured of EU membership as of May 1."
Denktash said the talks would not take place Thursday because the UN envoy overseeing them was visiting Athens to meet the new government.
In Strasbourg on Wednesday, a top European Union official, G?Verheugen, the enlargement commissioner, voiced alarm that the May 1 deadline for a reunited island to join the bloc might be missed.
He called on both sides to seize the chance to reunify Cyprus, while blaming Denktash for delaying accord.
"I call on the two communities to seize this quite unique opportunity to show that they are ready for peace and reconciliation in this region," Verheugen told the European Parliament.
Verheugen acknowledged that efforts to strike a deal were running against an increasingly tight UN timetable. "It's a bit late, but Mr. Denktash is responsible for this delay," he said.
Diplomats say little progress is now expected until Greece and Turkey join negotiations on March 22, as outlined in the UN timetable.
Athens and Ankara would have a week to craft an accord, and after that the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has a mandate to fill in any gaps on issues the sides cannot agree on. It will be submitted April 20 to a vote across Cyprus, the Mediterranean island that has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974, which was triggered by a Greek Cypriot coup backed by Greece.
The UN plan envisages a loose federal system of government for Cyprus with broad autonomy for the two ethnic communities. Papadopoulos wants a stronger central government, which would automatically have a Greek Cypriot majority, than is provided for in the Annan plan.
Before the 13th round of talks Wednesday, Papadopoulos accused Denktash of wanting everything his own way at the expense of Greek Cypriots.
"They want a reduction in the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to return, to curtail their right to property and boost the ethnic character of the constituent states," he said.
The UN plan provides for 90,000 refugees who headed south in 1974 to go back to their homes on land to be returned to a Greek Cypriot administration. Denktash wants Turkish Cypriots currently in those areas to be resettled and gain employment first. Denktash also wants to reduce the quota and voting rights of Greek Cypriots in the Turkish areas, which he wants invested with full autonomy, if not sovereignty. (Reuters, AFP)
Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune