- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The newly elected communist president of Cyprus yesterday pledged to pursue talks to unite the Mediterranean island but gave no indication he would accept Turkish conditions that a U.N. formula be used.

Dimitris Christofias will meet tomorrow with Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, in an attempt to break the deadlock between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the divided island.

Statements issued by both sides indicated no change in their positions.

At the first press conference since his election last month, Mr. Christofias warned that a failure to unify would be “devastating for the future of our people.”

“We do not want delays; we do not have the time,” he said, but cautioned against acting in haste “without the necessary preparation that will allow progress.”

Mr. Talat, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that is backed by about 35,000 Turkish troops deployed on the island, said he considers the 2004 U.N. proposal for a federal solution as the only viable basis for talks. The proposal, named for former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek side in a referendum.

Referring to the deadlock, Mr. Christofias said the partnership “has not worked and both communities and foreign interventions are responsible for this.”

He urged a withdrawal of the Turkish expeditionary corps. Ankara, which does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government, has rejected such pleas.

While rejecting the Annan plan, Mr. Christofias proposed talks aimed at “the evolution of the unitary bi-communal state of Cyprus into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal state, with a single sovereignty, a single citizenship and a single international personality.”

He said negotiations should be based on previous agreements between the communities as well as on resolutions issued by the United Nations and European Union condemning Turkish military intervention after the 1974 Greek coup to link Cyprus with Greece.

The Cyprus deadlock represents an obstacle in Turkey’s application for membership in the European Union and has hampered economic progress of the Turkish Cypriot minority.

Mr. Christofias, who before his election was secretary-general of the Progressive Party of the Working People, said the party’s communist affiliation was irrelevant because “what counts in Cyprus is our agony,” not political labels.

“My party has acted in a most constructive way,” he said. “Let’s finish this agony; that’s our problem.”

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