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17 September, 1997
Greece yesterday welcomed as a "positive development" the announcement by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash would meet soon to discuss security issues concerning the divided island republic.
"The agreement reached on Cyprus following US mediation for direct talks between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash on security matters is a positive development," Foreign Deputy Minister Yiannos Kranidiotis said.
Mr. Kranidiotis reiterated that the demilitarization of Cyprus "is a fundamental aim of our country", and expressed hope that the discussions on disarmament "will be a first step in that direction".
He said that during his recent meeting with US State Department coordinator on the Cyprus issue Thomas Miller he had stressed that the "substance of the problem is the withdrawal of the Turkish (occupation) troops from Cyprus".
Mr. Kranidiotis expressed hope that the Turkish side would display the "necessary desire" so that "we may truly proceed towards demilitarization" and that "peace and security will prevail on the island".
He further noted the importance of a statement adopted by the EU General Affairs Council, which he said in essence reaffirmed the commencement of EU accession talks for Cyprus, without terms and conditions, six months after the signing of the EU's Amsterdam Treaty.
In statements to reporters later in the day, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that the development was "positive", expressing the hope that by accepting to take part in the dialogue the Turkish Cypriot side sends a message of good faith.
Mr. Reppas said that Mr. Clerides goes to the meeting with a "good will" on the issue of security and that a similar expression of goodwill was hoped for from the other side.
Responding to press questions, he said Athens hoped for the speediest demilitarization of the island republic and that Greece accepted anything that could improve on the current situation.
"All these decisions," he added, "must be based on UN resolutions and on pursuing a just and viable resolution of the Cyprus problem.
"Greece's central stance is that troops should leave the island and that the island should be demilitarized," Mr. Reppas said in response to a question on the possibility of a NATO force being established on the island.
"At this point in time, we are not dealing with any other issue nor are we facing any other proposal," he said.
The beginning of a dialogue between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash, he added, was not linked to Nicosia's decision to purchase the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.
"That is a decision made by the Cypriot government which was taken for reasons of defense and security and which nobody can overturn," he stressed.
Holbrooke: Security talks important step
An agreement between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash to discuss security issues is a significant step towards lowering tensions on the island, US Special Presidential Envoy for Cyprus Richard Holbrooke said.
In an interview with CNN, Mr. Holbrooke called Monday's announcement of the agreement by Ms Albright at Larnaca Airport, "a big step" and something which "hasn't happened in a long time".
"It doesn't mean anything is substantively decided yet, but it is a significant step towards lowering tensions," Mr. Holbrooke said.
Noting that the talks will be under UN auspices, the US Presidential emissary said that both he and Ms Albright will be meeting with Greek and Turkish leaders in New York in the next two weeks.
Mr. Holbrooke stressed that the US Secretary of State's "personal involvement" in the announcement as well as the planned contacts with Greek and Turkish leaders are "another indication of the aggressive engagement of the United States in solving the security problems of this region, and instability in this region is a direct threat to America's national interests."
Source: Athens News Agency