Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met yesterday for a third session of talks on the tricky issue of property...

The UN Secretary General's Special Adviser for Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said the two leaders presented their positions on the criteria for a settlement of the issue of properties during their 19th meeting. The property issue will stay on the agenda for the next meeting next Thursday, he added.

Asked if there was any agreement on the criteria, he said this was a very early stage of the discussions. "They have a way to go, of course, not surprisingly. As I have always said these are difficult issues and they are not going to be resolved in one meeting like that," he added.

Experts consulted

Replying to a question on the UN team of experts being formed to assist the process; Downer said it was very important for himself and the people working with him to have a good understanding of "all the international precedents and approaches that have been taken to these types of issues".

The introduction of experts sparks images of the multitude of experts brought to Nicosia from around the world to work on the divisive Annan Plan five years ago. The Australian diplomat was quick to distance himself from any form of arbitration.

"As I have said all along, our role is not to write a settlement to the Cyprus problem. Our role is to be as helpful as we can and for the people of Cyprus in the end to make the decisions about any settlement that they may agree," he said.

Good personal relationship

Asked to comment on the meeting between Christofias and Ali Talat, Downer said the two know each other well and have a very good personal relationship, which was reflected in the meeting.

For his part, Christofias, came out of the talks a touch more upbeat than before the meeting. Before leaving the Presidential Palace, the President told reporters that there was little to be optimistic about.

Asked if the two leaders would need many meetings to reach agreement on the property issue, he replied: "If we go until the end, yes, many meetings. The first impressions or the first messages are not optimistic. We have serious differences in our views."

However, after the third session on property, Christofias was quick to rule out the possibility of either leader abandoning the negotiations. "Neither Talat nor Christofias will leave the direct talks," he said.

Asked to comment on statements made by Talat's spokesman Hasan Ercakica that an agreement can be reached by autumn: he said: "The sooner a solution can be found, the better for the entire Cypriot people. However, we cannot press the situation based on what anyone has on his mind or at the back of his mind. Let things work."

Three phases

Ercakica had laid out direct talks as working in three phases: negotiations until April; a period of give and take until July and a comprehensive agreement by autumn.

The President said discussions were held in a "friendly atmosphere" but noted some differences in yesterday's meeting.  Asked whether the message was that the properties debate would continue until the end, Christofias said: "You will hear the result soon and whether we will continue or not until the end".

Meanwhile, according to unconfirmed reports in Turkish newspaper Sabah, new US President Barack Obama will be sending two representatives to the region next week to visit Athens, Ankara and Nicosia and get a feel for the situation regarding Greco-Turkish relations and the Cyprus problem.

13 February 2009