Tassos plays down hope for Paris talks

PRESIDENT Tassos Papadopoulos yesterday sought to play down expectations as he flew out to Paris where he is to meet with UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan in talks to test the water for a resumption of negotiations on the Cyprus problem.

The two men will be meeting today on the sidelines of a conference on Africa hosted by French President Jacques Chirac. They are expected to recap developments on Cyprus since the April 2004 referendum and explore the possibility of a resumption of talks between the two communities on the island.

The get-together comes on the heels of Friday’s breakthrough, when COREPER (the Committee of Permanent Representatives) moved to decouple EU aid to the Turkish Cypriots from a sister proposal for direct trade with the breakaway regime, much to Nicosia’s satisfaction.

Concerns that Britain might block the regulation failed to materialise as COREPER’s decision was ratified yesterday by the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council.

Moreover, the Council endorsed COREPER’s rationale linking future progress on direct trade with Turkish Cypriot concessions on Varosha, Famagusta Port and a moratorium on the sale of Greek Cypriot properties.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn yesterday hailed the development as “a first step by the EU towards putting an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and facilitating the reunification of Cyprus.”

Amid this backdrop, Papadopoulos said yesterday this effectively thwarted Ankara’s “action plan” – a proposal for opening Turkish ports to Cypriot vessels and airplanes in return for direct trade between the EU and the breakaway regime.

But Papadopoulos, who was speaking from Larnaca airport shortly before boarding a plane for Paris, said nothing dramatic should be expected from his meeting with Annan.

“We shall be discussing the procedures on how to lay the groundwork for the resumption of talks, and I shall ask the Secretary-general to appoint a representative for this task.

“However, one should not hope for a statement [subsequent to the meeting] to the effect that talks on Cyprus will start at this date or that date,” he cautioned.

He reiterated that the government was averse to strict timetables as part of a new UN initiative, but added: “We are ready to sit at the negotiating table at any moment.”

Meanwhile from Brussels, Foreign Minister George Iacovou seemed upbeat about recent events, noting that COREPER’s decision “should have a positive impact” on Papadopoulos’ meeting with Annan.

“The Turkish Cypriots will finally receive the aid, and I’m sure everyone will welcome this,” he said.

Iacovou went on rebut allegations that the decoupling of the two regulations was a tradeoff for Greek Cypriot assurances that it would not veto Turkey’s EU candidacy.

Back in Cyprus, domestic politics came into play as the government coalition basked in the glory of COREPER’s decision and Papadopoulos’ meeting with Annan.

AKEL parliamentary spokesman Nikos Katsourides seized the opportunity to take a swipe at opposition DISY, which has long charged the Papadopoulos administration of a dead-end foreign policy.

“Look at how they are behaving,” Katsourides told state radio. “For two years they’ve been beating their breasts that there is no movement on the Cyprus problem. And now, when we do have movement, they are abandoning the battle.

“It makes you wonder what DISY really wants,” he added.

And over the weekend, former President Glafcos Clerides urged Papadopoulos to “freely and openly give his thoughts” to the UN Secretary-general.

Papadopoulos’ critics accuse him of cloak-and-dagger tactics and keeping the international community in the dark about his true intentions.

“I shall not comment on what Mr Clerides says,” was Papadopoulos’ response.

“The UN is aware of our positions in detail.”