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Media Watch 2004

13 January 2004
Source: Guardian
Author: Helena Smith
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 13 January 2004.
Denktash puts Cypriot deal back into play

Hope of ending the division of Cyprus rose yesterday when the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash appeared to soften his objection to the UN reintegration plan, which he has previously declared dead.

His shift of position came on the heels of Sunday's announcement by two Turkish Cypriot parties which favour a settlement that they will form a coalition government.

Returning from talks in Ankara with the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Denktash said the UN plan was "still on the table," adding: "We will sit and discuss it."

Turkey was in the process of amending the proposals to make them more acceptable to Turkish Cypriots, he said.

Ankara is expected to produce a new position paper on Cyprus, including its amendments to the UN plan, before Mr Erdogan goes to Washing ton later this month for talks with President George Bush.

The Republican Turkish party leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who will be prime minister in the coalition government, said: "Our government will pursue a target of attaining a solution by May 1."

His junior coalition partner is the Democrat party led by Mr Denktash's son Serdar.
Unless a settlement is agreed by May 1, the larger Greek Cyprus will enter the EU leav ing the self-declared Turkish republic in the north, which is recognised only by Turkey, even more isolated.

The UN plan envisages a federation of two largely autonomous states: a far cry from the two-state solution Mr Denktash, soon to be 80, has pressed for almost 30 years.

Turkey is under international pressure to break the deadlock. Brussels has warned Ankara repeatedly that its EU aspirations rest on its willing ness to resolve the conflict.

If Cyprus joins the EU still divided, Ankara will be in the embarrassing position of occupying part of EU territory: there have been an estimated 35,000 Turkish soldiers in the north since 1974.

Mr Denktash enjoys the backing of the Turkish armed forces, which have long had the last say on what they regard as their greatest modern success.

But he is thought to have come under pressure from the reform-minded Mr Erdogan to change his tune .

The daily paper Sabah recently quoted Mr Erdogan as telling Mr Denktash: "As long as this problem is dragging on, it is hurting both northern Cyprus and Turkey ... It is a must for us to reach a solution. And as far as I can see we are moving towards a solution."

The Cyprus issue is expected to lead the agenda when Mr Erdogan meets Mr Bush in Washington on January 28.

Analysts hope that with the north's first pro-settlement government in place the UN can bring the two sides back to the negotiating table next month, possibly after a referendum on the UN proposals.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, the plan's architect, has said he is willing to resuscitate the negotiations if both sides show a genuine willingness to resolve the dispute.

Although the ailing Mr Denktash will not be replaced as the Turkish Cypriots' negotiator, senior EU diplomats described his new stance as "heartening".

"For the first time, it seems, he has accepted that the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots want a solution ... that they hold views that are at variance with his own," an EU ambassador on the island said."