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Greece Welcomes Cyprus Agreement - 2004-02-13

The Greek government has welcomed the agreement reached in New York to resume unification talks for the divided island of Cyprus, with the aim of holding a referendum on a final agreement in April.

Greek alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Yannitsis called the agreement a historic occasion, and said Greece is very optimistic and very hopeful about the future of Cyprus.

Friday's agreement was brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, after three days of bargaining between the top Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in New York.

The two leaders will now fly back to Cyprus, where they will resume talks next week. If they do not reach an agreement by late March, the leaders of Greece and Turkey will join the talks. If that fails, they have agreed that Mr. Annan will have the authority to decide on the remaining issues, and then people on both sides of the island will be able to vote on the deal.

The aim is to have a reunification plan in place by May 1, when the Greek side of Cyprus is due to join the European Union.

Secretary-General Annan's last effort to solve the Cyprus issue collapsed last year, after objections to his plan from the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Reports from New York indicate Turkey is pressuring the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to come to terms with his Greek Cypriot counterpart Tassos Papadopoulos. Turkey does not want the Cyprus issue to affect its own effort to join the EU.

Thursday's announcement caused much optimism on both sides. But a senior aide to George Papandreou, the recently elected leader of Greece's Socialist Party, says that there are still many hurdles to jump before a unification deal can be reached.

He said the early stages of the coming talks are not likely to succeed, and only continuing strong international pressure can convince both sides to make the necessary compromises.