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Greek PM Makes First Official Visit to Cyprus

By Nathan Morley
20 October 2009

Greece and Cyprus have said they support Turkey's bid to become a full member of the European Union and needed its help to end the island's decades-old division. The announcement comes as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid his first official visit to Nicosia.

The division of Cyprus has defied mediation for decades and remains a key obstacle to Turkey joining the EU, but the UN continues to believe that this problem can be solved and the arrival of the new Greek prime minister here may help speed up the sluggish pace of the process.

On arrival, George Papandreou told journalists in Nicosia, that this is a problem that could be solved.

He said this is an issue which we can either solve and therefore [will] unite us, or keep us divided.

Mr. Papandreou, who advocates closer ties with Ankara, says Turkey has every right to be a member of the European Union, but needs to meet entry requirements.

Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey does not recognize the south.

The island joined the European Union in 2004, but only the Greek Cypriots enjoy membership benefits.

The former Greek Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Rolandis, who is now a political commentator, says Mr. Papandreou's visit was of great importance.

"Mr. Papandreou has been a realist in his political life, as foreign minister and as party leader, so if he is prepared to encounter this problem in a realistic manner, then it will help a lot," said Rolandis.

However, Rolandis said it is now important to increase the pace of these talks, admitting frustration with the lack of progress .

"To some extent I am, yes. I would have expected more progress by now, because they [the talks] have been going on for more than a year. The whole situation is intractable, its not an easy one," he added. "Still I would have expected to have had some more progress."

Year-long talks between Cyprus President Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have so far produced little real progress.

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias says Turkey has obligations it must comply with or it will not be able to continue on its accession course without obstruction.

Turkey began EU entry talks in December 2005 but these have been slowed by delays in Turkish reforms and by the Cyprus issue.

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