French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said Friday, April 27, that negotiations for divided Cyprus's accession to the European Union (EU) "are going very well".
"Accession negotiations with Cyprus are going very well and I'm not just saying that for the sake of it. France attaches great importance to these negotiations," Vedrine told a news conference in Nicosia at the end of his visit to the island during which he held talks with his Cypriot counterpart Yiannakis Cassoulides and President Glafcos Clerides.
"The 15 (EU countries) decided that a Cyprus settlement is not a precondition for accession," he said, adding that joining the EU would facilitate "a political solution" to the island's partition.
The northern third of the island was invaded and occupied by Turkey in 1974 after a failed coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece. Turkey has threatened "unlimited" reprisals if the EU accepts a divided Cyprus as a full member. But Vedrine said he had "no response" to those remarks.
Although Vedrine applauded the positive strides the island has taken towards accession, he said one stumbling block was maritime safety, a major concern for France, which has seen more than one ship carrying dangerous cargoes break up and go down off its coasts.
"The only point which may present a problem between Cyprus and France is the maritime security issue, but in negotiations, Cyprus has aligned itself more with French sensitivities", he added.
Having the world's sixth largest shipping register, Cyprus' consensus on tougher maritime regulations would bolster the French cause. Cyprus is expected to close the EU's transport chapter this week but it was delayed due to last minute consultations.
The island is ranked a leading candidate among the first wave of accession countries, having closed 18 chapters out of some 30, more than the six other hopefuls.
The French minister would not be drawn on questions about the island's arch foe Turkey and the presumably rocky relationship with Ankara following France's recognition of the 1915 Armenian massacres as genocide.
"The French Parliament has passed a bill concerning the (Armenian) issue. Turkish authorities reacted very negatively. As far as the French government is concerned we are willing to have the best possible relations with Turkey", Vedrine said.
His visit, the first by a French foreign minister, is seen as crucial in upgrading France-Cyprus relations. He spoke about a "keen personal interest in Cyprus" as another reason for his brief trip.
"It's a visit of special significance for Cyprus as our geographical and historical bonds with France are understood and bilateral relations excellent," Cassoulides said. Vedrine, who arrived in Cyprus Thursday night, flew Friday to Beirut for the second leg of his Middle East tour, which will also take him to Syria. — (AFP, Nicosia)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)