25 February 2003

I wish to express my great satisfaction at paying my first visit to Greece as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I am here at this critical time and I am looking forward to my discussions today and tomorrow with Greek officials, including the President and the Prime Minister of Greece. Greece is an important actor on the international scene. Its role has further increased since it took over the Presidency of the European Union, and I have seen them in action when I was invited to the European Summit earlier this month.

In my frequent contacts with Foreign Minister George Papandreou, we discuss a wide range of issues. A great deal of attention seems to be riveted these days on the Iraq crisis. But my paramount interest this week, as I visit Turkey , Greece and Cyprus , is the Cyprus problem. There is an extraordinary opportunity at hand to solve it, and I wish to make every effort in my power to see that the opportunity is not missed. Let me mention briefly why the matter is so urgent.

The Treaty of Accession providing for the enlargement of the European Union by ten members, including Cyprus , is to be signed on 16 April this year. It is the strong preference of the EU, shared by the Security Council, that the Treaty should be signed on behalf of a re-united Cyprus . But for this to happen, that re-united Cyprus must be in place, and it must come about by decisions of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, through separate, simultaneous referenda, to be held no later than 30 March. Prior to that, a large amount of technical work must be completed and the referenda must be prepared. If this opportunity is missed, it is not clear whether another will occur any time soon.

It is therefore easy to understand that decision time has arrived, and why the parties should adhere to the goal of reaching agreement on 28 February. Perhaps that goal can slip a few days, but to go much beyond 28 February would doom the prospect of a re-united Cyprus signing the Treaty of Accession. Postponing agreement beyond early March would amount to saying no to EU accession by a united Cyprus .

Since 11 November, the parties have had before them a draft for a comprehensive settlement. This draft was revised on 10 December. Following intensive consultations, which have included Mr. Papadopoulos since his election on 16 February, I provided all concerned, this past Sunday, with a preview of the elements of what I hope is the final revision of the draft. I will shortly hand it to them on the island.

The revisions I have in mind will not come as a surprise to the parties. They are the culmination of the most intensive process of negotiations that has ever occurred on the Cyprus problem. This decisive phase of the process, with its ups and downs, began in 1999, and it is now coming to its conclusion. My revised plan represents a best effort by the United Nations to help the parties reach an agreement. The rest is up to them, to Greece and Turkey , and ultimately, to the people on both sides.

I was encouraged and heartened by my talks in Turkey . My purpose here, as in Turkey , is to discuss with the Greek government how they can assist me in this final effort so that the parties in Cyprus can come to terms. I will travel tomorrow to Cyprus .

Q: Secretary-General, yesterday the Greek government and the newly elected President of Cyprus expressed the view that there is no possibility to reach an agreement by the 28th of February or 30th March. What do you think?

SG: Well, I think you have heard my statement and I would want to sit with both of them to discuss the issue and the urgency that we all attach to the problem and I think we will have a chance to exchange ideas and discuss how we will move forward. But as I have indicated, if we miss this opportunity to get a re-united Cyprus into the European Union on the 16th of April, I am not sure when that opportunity will be offered again.

Q: Secretary-General, just a clarification. Did I understand you correctly when you said that you handed to Ankara the same UN memorandum that was handed to the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot sides?

SG: I have indicated that I have shared with the parties, including the motherlands, elements of the changes I intend to propose, so they all have it. The Greek Cypriots have it, the Turkish Cypriots have it, your government has got it, and Turkey has got it.

Q: What will be the message that you will convey to Cyprus if there is no agreement by the first few days, or first week in March?

SG: We'll jump the bridge when we get there. I think that I have indicated that it is in their interest to work with us to find an agreement urgently and I hope we will. Don't give up before the fight is over.

Q: Secretary-General, you said you were encouraged by your talks in Turkey . Could you tell us a little bit about that? What was it that encouraged you?

SG: They understand and accept the urgency and the need to make progress and they do accept the fact that they would want to see a united Cyprus in the European Union and they are going to do whatever they can to assist me in my efforts.

Thank you very much.




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