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British Envoy 'Hopeful' On Cyprus Negotiations

by Lorys Charalambous,, Cyprus

20 December 2001

Britain's special envoy for Cyprus Lord David Hannay, who arrived on the island on Sunday for a three-day visit, met separately with leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on Monday and said he found some very encouraging signs.

" Three months ago, neither you nor I would have imagined... face-to-face negotiations," Lord Hannay told Greek and Turkish Cypriot journalists attending a news conference at the UN-controlled Ledra Palace.

" If we are honest with ourselves, we didn't think that we would be here. This is a major step forward. Whether by the end of the year we'll be breaking open the champagne I don't know. It's a bit soon to put it on ice, but I have got some champagne," quipped the envoy.

On December 4, the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, agreed at their first face-to-face meeting in over four years to return to direct talks under UN auspices from January 15.

" This problem has been around long enough now to require a very serious effort. I'm convinced now that both sides are approaching it with deep seriousness," said Lord Hannay. " I think the atmosphere has been transformed by the meeting on December 4, but I caution a little bit against excessive euphoria. I think the road ahead will be quite long and quite difficult."

Lord Hannay sees Cyprus's imminent accession to the EU as the factor which will be crucial to progress for the new round of talks. He said there now seemed to be a realisation that a timetable existed and that a sense of urgency was in the air, saying: " I think the Cyprus problem has been dogged over the years by a feeling that there is an infinite amount of time available to conduct discussions and it doesn't matter if they don't proceed in a very purposeful direction."

" I don't get that feeling from anyone now. I think everyone is working to a timetable, which takes account of some very important other timetables," he added, referring to the island's accession course. " It's a very important timetable for everyone. It's not an ultimatum. It's not a threat, but it is a time constraint and it seems to me that this is understood on both sides."

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