‘Save your comments for negotiating table’

Christofias suggests to Talat to keep his Cyprus problem opinions private

PRESIDENT Demetris Christofias yesterday advised Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to keep a tight lip on the Cyprus problem if he wanted to get any results out of today’s positive environment following his election.

Before Christofias could even take office, Talat made a number of comments to the press last week discussing the nature of a future settlement, its substance and his side’s desire to return to the Annan plan. His comments were not viewed favourably among the Greek Cypriot media, some of which accused Talat of trying to undermine the new President.

Two days before the runoff election, Talat sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking for future talks to be based on the same Annan Plan overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots in 2004.

According to Phileleftheros, Talat also asked for the international community to recognise the efforts of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (TRNC) in securing the Turkish Cypriot approval of the plan.

Since then, Talat has been quoted in the press talking on issues of substance regarding a solution. “We want political equality. I want to highlight the communal aspect of political equality between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, not the watered down version of political equality of two entities,” he said.

Talat highlighted that Turkish Cypriots have lived within their own state-like structure since 1963. Following the 1974 invasion and 1983 declaration of independence by the ‘TRNC’, this entity produced a salaried ‘civil service’ which must be taken into account in any future settlement, said Talat.

The Turkish Cypriot leader also spoke of the need for a new state to be born out of any final settlement, a prickly issue among Greek Cypriots. He referred to the need to start negotiations where they were left off, that is, the Annan plan, despite the July 8 2006 process being the last negotiated agreement between the two community leaders.

Christofias recently expressed his desire to see all Turkish troops leave Cyprus.

Talat’s response was any amendment of the international treaties signed in 1960 went beyond the powers of the two Cypriot leaders.

Following his inauguration ceremony yesterday, Christofias was asked to comment on Talat’s latest remarks.

“I don’t want to speak about this. Comments from both sides should be avoided if we want to work seriously on the Cyprus problem. This is my advice to Mr Talat,” said Christofias.

The election of Christofias last Sunday was seen by many on the island and in the international community as a positive sign that Greek Cypriots want to move on from the policies of the former government and closer towards reconciliation and reunification.

Given the previously close relationship enjoyed by Christofias and Talat, political observers were perplexed by the latter’s recent comments, which seemed to eat away at the upbeat climate created by the AKEL leader’s election.

Talat sought to play down concerns yesterday, insisting that Greek and Turkish Cypriots had a “new era” ahead of them.

“We have reasons to be hopeful… We have every opportunity ahead, for now. There is euphoria among Turkish Cypriots everywhere in the world. We have to utilise this.”
“Now, people across the political spectrum want unification, unlike the past. With the new leadership, looking to the future, I am very optimistic,” Talat added.

The Turkish Cypriot leader said he expected to meet with Christofias next week. A team of UN experts will arrive on the island in March to assess the situation, while by the end of April at the latest, Talat hoped real negotiations could start.

British High Commissioner Peter Millett highlighted that the next few weeks and months were “vitally important for Cyprus”.

Millet maintained that the international community would not impose any plan or solution on Cyprus. “You, the Cypriots, own the problem. It is up to you to solve it,” he said.

The British diplomat said the island needed to see a “change of atmosphere in which genuine trust can be generated”. A good start would be the opening of Ledra Street next month, he added.