UN proposes new approach to Cyprus talks

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NICOSIA, Nov 18: The United Nations has proposed a gradual build-up of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to try to ease deadlock between them and make progress within the first quarter of 2007, a UN document said.

In a letter to the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, the United Nations proposed ways to kick-start stalled contacts between the two communities on the island, whose division is a major hurdle to Turkey's European Union accession bid.

In July, the two had agreed on a twin-track process on resuming talks but progress has failed to materialise.

''It goes without saying that if there had been political will for progress the dispatch of this letter would have been unnecessary,'' a Western diplomat in Nicosia told Reuters yesterday.

The document, sent by United Nations Under-Secretary general Ibrahim Gambari to Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, is an attempt to resume Cypriot peace talks, stalled since 2004.

Timing of the letter, dispatched on Nov. 15, coincides with growing concern in the EU that a stalemate over Cyprus could dislodge Turkey's decades-old ambitions of joining the bloc.

REGULAR MEETINGS Ankara has refused to comply with an EU call to open its ports to Greek Cypriot traffic, and the possibility of repercussions ranging from partial suspension to a freeze in Turkish negotiations before a year-end deadline looms large.

''There would be a zero-chance of getting any UN process off the ground if there were an EU deadlock in December,'' the diplomat said.

Diplomats say a series of procedural issues have prevented progress on either confidence building, the first element of the process, or talks on political issues. Both tracks were supposed to run concurrently.

The UN proposes that ''working groups'' on political issues and ''technical committees'' on confidence draw up lists of subjects for discussion, and that they provide progress reports to a coordinating committee.

It also recommends the two leaders meet within seven days of the groups starting operations, and at least every four weeks thereafter to review progress.

''Since there appears to be a common desire not to prolong the preparatory phase indefinitely, I would like to suggest that you agree that a stock-taking meeting between (yourselves) and a senior representative of the United Nations Secretary-general take place during the first quarter of 2007,'' the letter seen by Reuters said.

Assuming progress was satisfactory and the United Nations concurred there was enough ground to resume negotiations, the third phase of the process would constitute a formal negotiating framework, it said.


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