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Cyprus Talks To Continue; Despite Pressure for Solution, Major Obstacles Remain

August 10 – A new round of UN-led talks on the future of the divided island will start in early September. The Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported that the talks, to be held in New York, will begin on September 4th or 6th and will last for about ten days. The format will be the "indirect" one of previous rounds, in which Clerides and Denktash will meet separately with UN officials in the same building.

The conservative Greek Cypriot paper Phileftheros, meanwhile, asserted that Britain, in consultation with the United Nations, has drafted a proposed new constitution for Cyprus – one which would create a loose federation of states. U.N. negotiators will reportedly present this proposal during the September talks. The report said that Britain's Cyprus envoy, Lord Hannay, in consultation with U.N. mediator Alvaro de Soto, is preparing a proposal that would offer "equal status" to the two sides.

But both sides appeared to downplay the possibility of accepting such a plan. Greek Cypriot government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said that the resumed talks were an opportunity to break the deadlock, but cautioned that there should be no change in the framework, that the talks should resume where they left off last November, and that the Greek Cypriot side would not forfeit its key positions. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, meanwhile, indicated that basic areas of disagreement remained an obstacle to any U.N.-mediated solution.

Foreign Minister Cites Assurances

Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides, returning from a trip to Syria, said that he had received assurances from the U.N. and from the Americans that no concession had been made to Denktash, and that the framework would remain unchanged. Cassoulides had flown to Damascus as part of a diplomatic campaign to prevent Turkey from using its Islamic Conference Organization membership to secure recognition of Northern Cyprus.

Denktash, meanwhile, said that "Clerides and I should agree on principles" before any UN sponsored plan is considered. Negotiations came to a halt last November when Denktash declared them a waste of time. Denktash has been demanding that his breakaway state in the north be recognized before talks could continue. The Turkish Cypriot leader has proposed a bizonal system in which Turkish and Greek Cypriots remain effectively segregated, with freedom of movement, settlement and property ownership sharply curtailed. Greek Cypriots have rejected this proposal, insisting that there is, and should only be, one Cyprus.

Denktash, Annan Meeting Set for Late August

Denktash will meet UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan in Salzburg in Austria on August 28. Annan's special representative for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto is slated to visit the island on August 29 for at least three days of contacts.

Pressure on Denktash to return to negotiations has been gathering. The European Union told Turkey that the quarter-century-old conflict was an obstacle to its ambition to join the EU. The breakaway republic, meanwhile, has been in the grip of economic stagnation and political unrest; in May the regime's governing coalition fell apart, reportedly because of differing opinions about the future of Cyprus. No nation besides Turkey recognizes the Northern Cypriot republic, which was created following a military invasion in 1974.

Christian, Moslem Marriages Legalized

The Aegean Times website reported that Cyprus has passed a law officially allowing marriages of couples from different religions. Previous to the law marriages between Moslem Turks and Christian Greeks were not officially recognized. As a result, Northern and Southern Cypriots could not get married legally. The change in the law will have little practical impact, since the two communities have been forcibly segregated since 1974.

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