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Cyprus Talks Enter New Phase - 2004-03-15

United Nations envoy Alvaro de Soto opened a new phase in the Cyprus negotiations Monday, holding separate meetings with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Nicosia.

Mr. de Soto called the first meeting useful and said he thought the new approach, separate meetings with each side in addition to bilateral talks, might result in progress. But he also said he thinks the talks will enter yet another phase in one week.

The two Cypriot leaders, who blame each other for the impasse, have until March 22 to resolve the stalemate, after which the Greek and Turkish governments will enter the talks for a week. If there is still no settlement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will step in to bridge remaining gaps and put the revised U.N. plan for Cyprus to the two communities in separate referendums April 20.

The hope is that a united Cyprus can join the European Union May 1. If there is no agreement, Cyprus will join, but only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot community will enjoy the benefits of EU membership.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded after a Greek Cypriot coup that was supported by Athens.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.