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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 13:16 GMT
Cyprus leaders agree to pursue talks
Rauf Denktash
Denktash: Walked out of indirect talks last year
Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have held an hour of talks in their first face-to-face meeting in four years, and agreed to negotiate until they reach agreement on the future of the long-divided island.

The UN special adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, read out a statement after the meeting, saying the two men would talk again without preconditions in January.

Nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed

Leaders' joint statement
Aides to President Clerides said later that he had accepted an invitation to dine with Mr Denktash on Wednesday.

It will be the first visit by a Cypriot president to the Turkish-occupied north of the island for many years.

BBC correspondent Gerald Butt says it is a much more hopeful outcome than had been expected, and represents the start of a new peace process for Cyprus.

However, he says discussion of the issues themselves in January is likely to prove difficult, as there is nothing to suggest that either leader has shifted his position of principle.

Click here for a map of Cyprus

There has been increased pressure to resolve the dispute over the island's sovereignty as the deadline for Cyprus to join the European Union draws near.

Glafcos Clerides
Clerides: Greek Cypriots want united federal state
Turkey has threatened to annex the north if Cyprus becomes an EU member, while Greece has warned that it will thwart the EU's enlargement ambitions if Cyprus is not accepted in the first wave of expansion, due in 2004.

The announcement by Cypriot Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou that the two leaders would have dinner together, in the presence of Mr de Soto, was greeted with widespread astonishment.

He said the invitation was to Mr Denktash's personal residence in north Nicosia, not his "so-called presidential building".

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has given a positive response to the resumption of talks.

"It cannot be certain what the result will be, but there is the possibility that talks secured in this way will open a few doors," said Mr Ecevit.

The island has been divided since Turkey's invasion in 1974.

Greek Cypriots demand that the island be reunified in a federation, while Turkish Cypriots demand full status for the breakaway state, which is only recognised by Ankara.

The two leaders last met in 1997. Mr Denktash walked out of indirect negotiations last year, demanding recognition of his mini-state and an end to Cyprus' preparations for EU membership.

Map of Cyprus

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The BBC's Gerald Butt
"The talks are not being characterised as formal negotiations"
See also:

03 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus' quiet crisis
23 Nov 01 | Europe
Turkey holds key Cyprus debate
30 Oct 01 | Business
Turkey awaits IMF funds
17 Sep 01 | Business
Turkey rattled by conflict fears
31 Aug 01 | Business
Turkey's economy shrinks
05 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cyprus
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