Cypriot president begins three-day visit to Ireland


CYPRUS: Tassos Papadopoulos tells Michael Jansen in Nicosia that he does not believe the EU will take over from the United Nations in the search for a settlement to reunite the divided island.

Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos arrives in Dublin today after attending the Euro- Mediterranean summit in Barcelona. During this three-day visit, he will open an exhibit of ancient Cypriot glassware in the National Museum and hold talks with President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and other senior officials.

In an interview ahead of the visit, Mr Papadopoulos observed that the close connection between the two countries goes back half a century.

During Cyprus's struggle for independence from Britain, a number of Eoka (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) were transferred to Wormwood Scrubs prison in London where they were housed with Irish republican prisoners.

After the emergence of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, Eoka men invited their Irish friends to come for annual celebrations marking the beginning of the Eoka campaign.

Irish troops serving in the UN peacekeeping force on the island from 1964 until this year helped create sympathy for Cyprus in Ireland.

"Cyprus was a nice place to serve since they were not involved in violent incidents and war . . . so now we have 10,000 ambassadors for Cyprus in Ireland," he remarked.

While chairman of the Cypriot parliament's foreign affairs committee, he studied Ireland's economic miracle, focusing on small business as a growth engine.

"Now we have the same system here," he said. An Irish firm is advising Cyprus on tourism strategies and the Irish Government is assisting with the introduction of the euro. Cyprus is also following the Irish example for making its constitution compatible with EU legislation.

"I have found our positions [ on EU affairs] to be in line with those of Ireland. As you know, the accession of Cyprus took place during the presidency of Ireland. I like to believe that I have developed a very good personal relationship with the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and I shall not hesitate to seek his support on issues pertaining to the Cyprus issue. He has always been forthcoming."

Mr Papadopoulos does not believe the EU will take over from the UN in the search for a settlement to reunite the divided island. On the prospects for fresh negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, he said, "I know a lot of things are moving, but the surest way of killing an initiative is to divulge it too quickly."

Part of the delay has been caused by an "ongoing discussion in the United Nations as to who is to take charge".

He revealed that last May, UN secretary general Kofi Annan had considered appointing a new special representative who would launch a new effort. However he was asked by the US and Britain to wait until Turkey began accession talks on October 3rd. Washington did not want any obstacles to appear in Turkey's path. Now that this milestone has passed, "I think everybody would like to see a new effort on Cyprus".

His government has had to overcome the impression that the Greek Cypriot vote against the Annan plan in April 2004 amounted to rejection of a solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

The Greek Cypriot side also had to dispel the notion that "solving the Cyprus problem involved a land-for-peace formula". He said the UN and the interested powers believed that "if we get enough land back so over half the refugees can return to their homes and property under Greek [ Cypriot] administration, we would be forthcoming on other issues".

But this was not a correct assessment. He insists that any reunification plan should create a viable, smoothly functioning state and not just involve the return of a small strip of land to the control of the Greek Cypriot side.

Although the government has made progress in changing attitudes toward the Greek Cypriot side, he said, "Some countries, like the United States, remain unshakeable in their view that the Annan plan was a uniquely balanced plan".

Washington says that "if we want changes . . . we have to convince the Turkish Cypriots to accept the changes . . . but when the Turkish side has been given so much by the Annan plan, it has no motivation to give away what it has gained".

He added: "The solution has to be agreed by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots . . . I don't want to talk a lot about the Annan plan. I don't care very much whether one calls it Annan VI or Erdogan I. I said as much to Mr Erdogan [ the Turkish prime minister] when I met him in Moscow in the presence of Mr Annan."

He accepts that the Annan plan will remain on the table and has submitted to Mr Annan a list of objections. Mr Papadopoulos listed three important points on which the UN has agreed.

"First, it was decided that the good offices of the secretary general does not include arbitration." Outsiders will therefore not be allowed to impose a solution on the island's communities.

Second, "any negotiations must be very well prepared. That's very important for us because . . . if we have another effort which ends in failure, the message . . . will be the Cyprus problem is insoluble and it cannot be solved except by partition. This is something nobody will accept."

Third, "only an agreed solution will be put to a new referendum". Mr Papadopoulos said Mr Annan is planning a series of missions by his representatives to try to build common ground. Meanwhile, he is considering holding a census and gathering more data on property so that once negotiations begin, this material will be available. The republic seeks a larger role for the EU, but this is opposed by Turkey.

Mr Papadopoulos observed that since the UK, Cyprus, Greece, and the Turkish Cypriots are EU members and Turkey is pursuing accession, any agreement must make it possible for Cyprus to function "as a member of the EU" and "be compatible with the principles on which the EU was founded".