U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the plan to reunite Cyprus presented earlier this month by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presents a "historic opportunity" to resolve the long-standing dispute over the island. He spoke to reporters after talks about Cyprus and related issues with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
The meeting here came amid deadline pressure on the Turkish-Cypriot leadership to join their Greek-Cypriot counterparts in accepting the Annan plan, which would allow a reunited Cypriot republic comprising two "component states" to enter the European Union next month.
The U.N. chief has asked the sides for a formal response by this coming Saturday, less than two weeks before Cyprus is due to join the EU at its meeting in Copenhagen December 12.
While Greek Cypriot leader Glafkos Clerides, has said he accepts the Annan plan as a basis for negotiations, the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who is hospitalized in the United States, said Wednesday the plan needs territorial adjustments.
The Bush administration has strongly supported Mr. Annan's settlement efforts. In a talk with reporters here with Mr. Papandreou at his side, Secretary Powell said he was unsure whether there would a breakthrough before the Copenhagen meeting. But he made clear his hope that the plan will be embraced by both Cypriot communities. "I hope that both sides realize, and I think both sides do realize, that this is an historic opportunity to solve a long-standing problem," said Mr. Powell. "And the secretary-general has asked for a response by the 30th of November, and I hope that both sides will respond in a way that allows the process to move forward. And then we will see what will happen over the next week to 12 days as to whether or not there is more progress that would fit into the progress we hope to see made at the Copenhagen meeting."
The United Nations plan asks the Turkish-Cypriot side to give up a portion of the land it controls in exchange for the economic windfall that would accompany EU membership. If it fails to accept the U.N. initiative, the more prosperous ethnic Greek part of the island would join the community alone.
Both the governments of Greece and Turkey have been supportive of the Annan initiative, reflecting the warming trend in their relationship in recent years driven in part by the prospects of EU membership.
Turkey is not among the 10 countries being admitted to the EU next month. But in his comments here, Mr. Papandreou stressed his government's support for a decision at the Copenhagen meeting setting a date certain for Turkish accession talks. "Greece has been up-front in saying that we would want to see a very positive message towards Turkey, and therefore looking at a specific date for the beginning of accession discussions with Turkey and the European Union," he said. "This of course would be within the criteria that all candidate countries would have to fulfill. But I think it would be a very positive message and would keep, I would say, an important movement we are now seeing in Turkey for change, for deepening democratic institutions, human rights, and of course for the Cyprus problem."
The discussions here also covered Iraq, with Mr. Papandreou stressing his support for the U.N. resolution returning weapons inspectors to Iraq, and expressing hope the issue can be resolved diplomatically.
Mr. Powell thanked Greece for its support in the war against terrorism and congratulated Greek authorities for the arrests earlier this year of top leaders of the November 17th terrorist group, whose victims over the years included several Americans, including a senior CIA official in 1975.