Turkish Cypriot leader agrees to talks on island reunification

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The Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, said yesterday that he will attend last-ditch talks to reunify the divided Mediterranean island before it joins the EU, but also stressed reservations about the plan.

Mr Denktash's grudging agreement to take part in a meeting next week in New York follows strong pressure from Turkey for a resolution of the 30-year-old Cyprus dispute.

The latest round of diplomacy has sparked new optimism over the prospects of a breakthrough. "There is an air of excitement," said one British diplomat, "although it is tempered by the fact we have had too many false dawns before".

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish Foreign Minister, said his government was committed to striking a deal by May and that Turkey had "pushed everything to start the negotiations" for a peaceful reunification of the Greek and Turkish sectors of the island. "Turkey will maintain its positive attitude, no one should have a doubt about it," he argued.

Nevertheless, the ambivalence of the 80-year-old Turkish Cypriot leader underlines the fact that success is far from guaranteed. Mr Denktash, who was blamed by the UN for the breakdown of talks last April, said the latest invitation to resume reunification talks was a one-sided "imposition" and promised to set out his reservations in a letter. He added: "We're going to a one-day meeting in New York. This does not mean that negotiations will have begun. This is a preliminary meeting that will determine whether or not negotiations can begin."

The Greek Cypriot Prime Minister, Tasos Papadopoulos, has already expressed willingness to resume dialogue and officials were optimistic but cautious last night. If serious talks do begin none of the participants will want to accept blame for their failure.

In a letter to the participants, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, said he would take "acceptance of this invitation as a commitment to finalise the plan" and to put it to a referendum in both sides of the island on 21 April.