Deal on Cyprus clears the way for talks on EU expansion

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Patching together a deal on how to embark on accession negotiations with the divided island of Cyprus, the EU has cleared the way for an on- schedule start to enlargement talks with all six "first-wave" candidate members on 31 March.

The deal by foreign ministers at a weekend of informal talks steers a middle course between extremes - Greece's stance that unless talks with the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government went ahead without contest, it would block the entire enlargement process; and France's proposal that discussions with Cyprus should be put on ice until its Greek and Turkish communities there settled their differences.

In the meantime, the EU hopes two things will happen: that the Cyprus delegation contains Turkish Cypriots; and that the overall settlement which has eluded UN negotiators since the Turkish invasion of the northern half of the island in 1974 can be achieved. Neither looks likely.