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Greek,  Turkish Cypriot Leaders Hold Crucial Talks in New York - 2004-02-11

Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed to hold a second day of U.N.-mediated talks on reuniting their divided island. Both leaders were tight-lipped as they emerged from the opening session.

Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulous and his Turkish counterpart Rauf Denktash met face-to-face for nearly two hours Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Afterward, both leaders said only that they had agreed to continue their discussions Wednesday afternoon.

The only comment came from Mr. Denktash's son, Serdar Denktash. He told reporters "Things are moving in the right direction."

U.N. mediator Alvaro de Soto, who has been holding separate talks with both sides, called the meeting constructive, suggesting that the negotiations are at a delicate stage. "We have asked parties not to speak about the discussions that have been going on. So I prefer not to characterize them at all," he said.

Mr. De Soto expressed hope that after a night and a morning of thinking over the secretary-general's plan for reuniting Cyprus, the two leaders might come close to resolving their 30-year dispute.

The secretary-general's previous mediation attempt ended in stalemate last year, when Mr. Denktash insisted that his Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - which is recognized only by Turkey - be accepted as a sovereign state in a Cypriot confederation.

A year later, however, the two sides are operating on a tight deadline. Cyprus will be admitted to the European Union May 1. Unless a reunification deal is worked out, only the Greek Cypriot government will join, deepening the division of the island.

With that deadline looming, Secretary-General Annan agreed to resume U.N. mediation efforts, but only on the condition that talks are completed by March 25th. After that, he would be free to fill in the blanks on all unresolved issues. The final agreement would then be put to separate referenda before the May 1 deadline.

Turkey has put heavy pressure on Mr. Denktash to accept the deal, arguing that failure would further deepen Turkish Cyprus's isolation. It would also damage Ankara's chances of joining the European Union.

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the northern part of the island. That came after the Cypriot national guard - led by Greek officers - overthrew the government in Nicosia.

The United Nations has maintained a peacekeeping mission along Cyprus' so-called Green Line for nearly 30 years.