Annan remains cautious despite the pressure

U.N. SECRETARY-General Kofi Annan said yesterday further consultations were needed before he decided on a new round of Cyprus peace talks, dampening hopes for imminent progress on the issue.

Annan appeared to be holding out for the sides to meet his conditions for re-engagement in the process, at a standstill after talks broke down in early 2003.

“I need to hear from two more sides and then I will be in a better position to determine when, and whether we resume the talks and if the conditions are met,” Annan told reporters in Brussels.

The UN chief has held high-level talks with Turkey and the Greek Cypriots, but said he still needed to consult both Greece and the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

Speaking last night on his return to Cyprus from Brussels, where he met Annan on Thursday, President Tassos Papadopoulos confirmed the Secretary-general remained undecided on the talks.

Papadopoulos said Annan did not yet consider he had received the assurances that would justify the conditions he had set to re-engage in the process.

The United Nations says it will call talks only if it gets assurances from the sides involved that they will use the blueprint as a basis for negotiations.

It also wants the sides to agree, from the outset, that any result will be put to a public referendum in a bid to ensure the talks have a cut-off date.

Asked whether he had seen a change in Turkey’s position, Papadopoulos said he knew no more than any one else, but added Annan had informed him on his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Despite Annan’s caution, pressure is growing for the two sides to sign up to a carefully crafted power-sharing blueprint which would usher a united Cyprus into the European Union on May 1.

Yesterday, European Commission president Romano Prodi said there was a window of opportunity to solve the Cyprus problem by May 1.

‘There is a window of opportunity, a small window, because May 1 is three months ahead and the process is not a short process, but we can do it,” Prodi said after meeting Papadopoulos.

Turkey’s Radikal newspaper yesterday quoted US sources as saying President George W. Bush would suggest that negotiations resume on February 9 in Geneva. Further reports said Bush would seek written commitments from all sides in the conflict for the resumption of talks.

Annan said yesterday he had spoken by telephone to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had assured him he would intensify efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.

Powell said on Thursday that the Cyprus problem had gone on for far too long and that it was time to bring pressure to bear on both sides. He said a deal was close.

Asked whether the Secretary of State had plans to visit the region, Papadopoulos said last night: “The US has always shown and still shows interest on how the talks progress and its interest might include some kind of involvement by Mr Powell.

“Their desire is to find a solution, encourage and advise the two sides to proceed so that the problem can be solved before May 1, something that we want and pursue and something that they have accepted.

“I think you have heard Mr Powell’s statements that he will not be a negotiator or facilitator, or have a direct involvement,” the President added.

With time getting increasingly tight for a deal, observers say Annan will have no choice but to hold a new round of talks.

Regardless of reservations from the parties, he will have to hold new negotiations and possibly water down his conditions, one diplomat said.

“He is between a rock and a hard place,” said the diplomat who closely follows Cyprus. “He is under a huge amount of pressure to deliver on this last opportunity.”