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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

18 May 2004

Regardless of the results of last month’s referendum to reunite Cyprus, it would be to the strong benefit of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to find a solution to the problem, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

The Cyprus question was among several issues the Prime Minister and Secretary-General Kofi Annan had discussed during their meeting, prior to the press conference. Mr. Karamanlis had thanked the Secretary-General for his good services and stressed the need to look forward, continuing to focus on the priority of an eventual reunification of the island and the prospect of all its inhabitants benefiting from the fruits of Cyprus’ accession to the European Union.

A correspondent pointed out that prior to the referendum, the Secretary-General had made it clear that if it had failed, he would cease his mediation efforts regarding Cyprus’ reunification. Had that position changed, and were there any initiatives to revitalize the process?

Mr. Karamanlis replied that he was not ready to accept recent developments “as a full stop”, but only as a phase in the process. Efforts should be renewed as long as the main target remained “steady and stable” - the reunification of the island. All its inhabitants -- Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots -- should enjoy the fruits of the European Union accession. He believed that the Secretary-General basically shared that view. He was not in a position to predict when efforts would be renewed, but everybody realized that it was necessary to provide new impetus to the process.

Responding to whether the Annan plan was dead and buried and whether it could be revived, Mr. Karamanlis said that the plan had provided for the simultaneous referenda among the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The people had expressed themselves, and their choice had to be respected. As for the future, the Annan plan offered a good basis for renewing the efforts. What was needed now was reflection and evaluation of the situation. It was possible that some parts of the plan required improvements, such as security guarantees. However, he believed that “the plan has to be there” and that it was necessary to keep working on it to reach the final and basic priority of reunification.

The two communities had to help that process, he added. Turkey’s possible accession to the European Union served not only the two countries’ bilateral relations, but also the prospect of turning the whole region into a region of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity.

Asked if he had got any indication that the Secretary-General wanted to revive the plan, he replied that he was not going to interpret what the Secretary-General had shared with him. At the same time, he understood that there was a broad consensus on the need to reach a solution to the political problem. He did not necessarily foresee a particular initiative, but he strongly believed that such initiatives should be undertaken.

Regarding the United Nations peacekeeping presence, he said that there was a very strong argument for it, as it had addressed in the past, was addressing today and would address till a solution was found, the basic premises of stability and security of the island.

To another question, he added that while the general atmosphere had improved over the past years, some specific issues remained that needed to be dealt with. That was a common situation between neighbours. He believed that it was possible to fully normalize the relations between Greece and Turkey, but it had to be done in a safe, stable and careful manner. The European dynamic could help in that regard. He was not there “to offer you any breaking news, but to express at least reserved optimism that we might find a way to change the situation”.

Asked about the obstacles between Greece and Turkey that stood in the way of improved relations between the two countries, Mr. Karamanlis mentioned the question of the continental shelf. While a good atmosphere, personal relations and trust helped, there were also objective issues that had to be dealt with reasonably. The starting position now was better than in the past. There was -- at least in principle -- the willingness on both sides to change the climate of recent decades, but that needed to be proven in practice. The required initial political will was there. Now, one should see if it would lead to full normalization of relations.

“With less than three months before the Olympics, how optimistic are you that the Greek proposal of the Olympic truce would be implemented”, a correspondent asked. Mr. Karamanlis replied that it was necessary to be optimistic that not only the truce but also peace would prevail around the world.

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