Speaking along the same lines, President Glafcos Clerides announced that top diplomats will come to Cyprus at the end of March to prepare the new round of UN-sponsored direct talks. He said he was officially informed that UN Secretary-General's Special Advisor for Cyprus, Diego Cordovez, would be in Cyprus at the end of March.
Cordovez visited Cyprus in November 1997. He had assured he would returned to the island after next month's presidential elections to organize the peace process.
President Clerides said after Cordovez, Britain's Special Representative for Cyprus, Sir David Hannay, would visit the island, followed by Presidential Emissary, Richard Holbrooke.
Representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides met on 23 January and exchanged information about missing persons in Cyprus. Prior the meeting UNFICYP spokesman, Waldemar Rokoszewski, said that it was a very important step and the execution of the July 31st agreement on the missing, brokered by UN Deputy Special Representative in Cyprus, Gustave Feissel, between the leaders of the two communities.
The meeting took place at the residence of UN resident representative Gustave Feissel, in the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, after an agreement reached in July last year between President Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The Greek Cypriot side was represented by Takis Chirstopoulos, Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner, and the Turkish Cypriot side by Rustem Tatar, also participating in the UN Investigatory Committee on Missing Persons.
The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the developments concerning the exchange of information about the location of graves of missing persons in Cyprus and said that he will soon appoint the third member to the investigatory committee. The position has been vacant since the retirement of Swiss former Red Cross official, Paul Wurth, some three years ago.
A settlement of the Cyprus problem is no precondition for the Republic's accession to the European Union, even though it would make things easier. This was stressed by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who also pointed out that Britain is in a stronger position than others to play an important role in Cyprus' accession to the EU. In an interview with the Financial Times, published in the special section of the newspaper on the EU, Blair said Britain would use its good offices to try to achieve a settlement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus. He pointed out, however, that a settlement of the Cyprus problem was not a precondition to accession to the EU, even though it would make it easier.
Furthermore, British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has said there are no legal obstacles for Cyprus to join the European Union and disputed the Turkish view on the issue. He placed Cyprus among the strongest candidates as its market economy is one of the best developed among countries that have applied for European Union (EU) membership.
"In our view there is no legal bar to Cyprus seeking to be a member of the EU," Cook said, commenting on the opinion of Turkish officials that, according to the 1960 agreements by which the Cyprus Republic was established, the island cannot join an international body, like the EU, if both Greece and Turkey are not also members.
Replying to a relevant question, Cook said "we regard Cyprus as one of the strongest candidates for membership. Among all the applicant countries, it has the highest standard of living and the best-developed market economy."
Estonian Foreign Minister, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in mid January, paid a three-day official visit to Cyprus. During his visit he met with President Clerides, President of the House of Representatives, Spyros Kyprianou, and the Foreign Minister and their discussions focused on the two countries' accession negotiations with the EU and cooperation between the two countries.
During the visit, two agreements were signed in Nicosia by the Foreign Minister of Cyprus and Estonia, Ioannis Kasoulides and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, respectively, on the abolition of visas and the establishment of air services. Both agreements are expected to boost bilateral ties and help people from both countries to get to know each other.
Moscow has strongly reacted to an "agreement" signed recently between Turkey and the illegal regime in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus, regarding cooperation of the Turkish Foreign Ministry with the breakaway pseudostate. According to the Russian news agency "Novosti," the spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry Valeri Nesteruskin said the "agreement" would inevitably make a solution to the protracted Cyprus problem even more difficult.
"The signing of the 'protocol' for closer cooperation between the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the illegal, secessionist fabrication will undoubtedly make prospects in finding a just and viable Cyprus settlement more difficult, in view of the intense efforts expected in the forthcoming months," Novosti quoted the Russian official as saying.
This "agreement" has caused "ironic comments and sarcastic discussions in international diplomacy," he added, noting it would be difficult for anybody to see how "diplomats" of an illegal regime could represent Turkish diplomacy's interests. Nesteruskin noted "diplomatic patronage" of Turkish Cypriots by Ankara has been practiced for years and was not a recent phenomenon. However, he stressed that Ankara's attempt was to give special importance to this "agreement" by proceeding to the actual "integration" of the occupied part of Cyprus. The Russian official said although the international community has condemned theses actions, it should now take up its responsibilities in compliance with international law and the explicit resolutions of the Security Council.
The Cyprus Government has welcomed Russia's response to an illegal cooperation protocol between Turkey and the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in the areas of Cyprus occupied since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
"We endorse fully Moscow's strong reaction to Ankara's decision to sign a cooperation protocol with the so-called foreign ministry of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime," Government Spokesman Manolis Christofides said.
More than 1,280 Turkish Cypriot pilgrims crossed the Green Line on 31 January and visited the Hala Soultan mosque in Larnaca in order to celebrate Sheker Bayram, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Around 28 buses collected the Turkish Cypriots as soon as they passed into the government controlled areas and took them to the Hala Soultan Tekke, which is considered to be the holiest Islamic shrine after Mekka and Medina.