What happens next in the race to solve the Cyprus problem

THE next steps in the Cyprus negotiations should become clear by the weekend, informed sources said yesterday, with time running out for the signing of an initial agreement by the December 12 EU summit deadline.

Both leaders are expected to hand in their comments on the UN plan by tomorrow.

The UN Secretary-general’s special envoy for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto was in Ankara yesterday and returned to the island last night. He is expected to meet President Clerides this morning at 7.30am to discuss what type of negotiations will take place and how and when they will proceed within the tight timeframe.

De Soto will then travel to Athens later today to meet Greece’s Foreign Minster George Papandreou before returning to the island, probably at the weekend.

The state of health of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will have to be taken into consideration with regards to the rigours of intensive face-to-face talks between the two leaders due to the time constraints involved. The UN expressed its concern about this issue earlier this month and it has yet to be decided whether the negotiations will be direct or on a proximity basis.

According to reports from New York, doctors advised Denktash to stay in the United States until Christmas. The Turkish Cypriot leader was discharged from hospital on Wednesday night and while reports from New York said he would leave the US next week, reports from the north said he could be leaving as early as last night in order to head to Ankara for consultations. His adviser Ergun Olgun – who has been at his side since his operation last month – has already left for Ankara.

If both leaders are on the island, negotiations will probably take place here, but if Denktash remains in New York, matters would be further complicated and time is running out.

“We will have to wait until Saturday to see what the Secretary-general’s office will announce,” the source said. “Until those replies come, De Soto will be moving around quite a bit,” he added, but could not say what form the talks might take.

“Until two days ago you would have said you were looking towards New York for talks to take place there. The situation is still very fluid.”