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Media Watch 2004

23 January 2004
Source: Guardian
Author: Ewen MacAskill
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 23 January 2004.
Turkish army is main bar to one-nation Cyprus, say Greeks

The Greek government expressed pessimism yesterday about the prospect of an early deal with Turkey to settle the Cyprus dispute, in spite of a recent flurry of diplomacy.

George Papandreou, the Greek foreign minister, who is standing for the premiership in April, met Tony Blair and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, in London yesterday to discuss the island which has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since the Turkish invasion in 1974.

Mr Papandreou asked the British and US governments to try to persuade Turkey to compromise. "What I say to the Turks is 'there are enough problems in the region, let's get rid of this one'."

He added: "If both sides come to the table in a spirit of give and take, we have a chance."

But, in private, Greek officials say there is little prospect of a sudden deal, mainly because the Turkish military is not ready to give up its "beachhead" - north Cyprus.

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, after years of talks, last year washed his hands of the negotiations. Hope was revived recently as news leaked out about tentative diplomatic moves. There was also a sense of urgency created by the planned accession of Greek Cyprus to the EU on May 1 - with Turkish Cyprus left behind and losing out on EU benefits.

Mr Straw said yesterday: "I very much hope progress can be made towards the reunification of Cyprus by May 1. Everybody wants a settlement and solution before Cyprus becomes a member of the EU."

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdogan, in an interview with Associated Press published yesterday, promised that Turkey would work until the "last second" to help reunify the island.

But a Greek official said: "By the end of the year there may be the makings of a solution but not by April 1 or May 1."

He was sceptical about Turkey ever agreeing to a deal until there was a perestroika, with Turkey forcing its military out of politics. The Greek government believes Mr Erdogan is prepared to do a deal on Cyprus, but his hands are tied by the Turkish military.

Mr Erdogan, due to see the US president, George Bush, next week, said the main worry was the possibility of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq or a federal system that recognised Kurdish autonomy. The Greek government believes that last year, with the focus on Iraq, Cyprus was sidelined: the danger is that Iraq could again scupper a deal. "