British foreign secretary meets with Turkish premier to discuss Cyprus

Britain's foreign secretary expressed hope on Thursday that renewed Turkish initiatives would help resolve the Cyprus dispute, which threatens to hinder Ankara's efforts to join the European Union, Turkish media said. Jack Straw met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Ankara's Esenboga airport before the Turkish premier flew to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

Straw was also scheduled to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Turkey has proposed opening its ports to Cypriot vessels in exchange for the lifting of economic restrictions on the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state. Greek Cypriot leaders dismissed the proposal before it was made public Tuesday.

But Erdogan on Thursday insisted that Greek Cypriots should take the Turkish proposal seriously.

"We want to see some positive steps from the other side too," Erdogan said after his meeting with Straw. "We're in favor of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution. Otherwise, it has no meaning." CNN-Turk television quoted Straw as saying in an interview that he hoped the Turkish proposal would help resolve the conflict. He urged both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot officials to refocus on a stalled settlement proposal, drafted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, during separate meetings on the divided Mediterranean island Wednesday.

A U.N. draft settlement plan, backed by Annan, was rejected by Greek Cypriots and approved by Turkish Cypriots in separate referendums in 2004, before Cyprus joined the EU the same year.

Straw arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday following his talks in Cyprus, where his meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat angered Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos refused to meet Straw and accused Britain, which strongly backs Turkey's hope of joining the EU, of offending Greek Cypriots by visiting Talat's office in the Turkish-controlled north of Nicosia.

Straw rejected Papadopoulos' accusations that he was biased. Straw said working toward a deal on Cyprus was one of his top priorities for 2006. Turkish accession to the EU is in Cyprus' interest, he said, emphasizing Turkey's strategic importance as a secular, pro-Western Muslim nation whose neighbors include Iran and Iraq, reports the AP. I.L.

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