- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Turkey is stepping up its threats against Cyprus as well as warnings to the European Union of conflict in the area if it admits the Greek-speaking part of the Mediterranean island.

The Turkish saber-rattling including the threat of military action comes amid continued jitters in the eastern Mediterranean about the consequences of a possible invasion of Iraq.

Greek Cypriots and their Greek mainland backers fear that the two British bases on Cyprus might be targeted by Iraqi missiles, affecting the rest of the island. The bases served as a transit and supply point during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

During the past few months the bases have been upgraded in expectation of more action against Iraq.

Turkey, which is expected to allow the use of its own mainland bases in a planned U.S.-led strike on Iraq, appears more preoccupied with what seems to be the imminent approval for Cyprus to join the European Union without the runaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island.

"Granting the Greek Cypriots EU membership would disrupt peace and stability in Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean," said Gen. Aytac Yalman, commander of the Turkish land forces, on a recent visit to Cyprus.

"It would drag the eastern Mediterranean into a permanent security crisis," he added. Gen. Yalman is a member of the Turkish National Security Council, the country's ultimate decision-making body.

In a stronger statement, former Turkish foreign minister Mumtaz Soysal warned that war would break out if the European Union admitted Cyprus. Mr. Soysal is one of the authors of the constitution of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.

Mr. Soysal made his comment at a top-level meeting held behind closed doors in Istanbul. Diplomatic reports quoted him further as saying that if the Greek side of Cyprus joined the European Union and the Turkish side is ignored, "the direct talks will be ended and Northern Cyprus will strengthen its ties with Ankara."

However, Mr. Soysal's statement appears to have fallen short of previous Turkish threats that Ankara would simply annex Northern Cyprus.

The Northern Cypriot regime, led by Rauf Denktash, has refused to join in an application for EU membership as long as the Greek side does not recognize it as an equal partner. The Greek side has so far insisted on a federal solution, which the Turkish Cypriots oppose.

Recent talks between Mr. Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides on how to reconcile the views of the Cypriot protagonists have made no progress, despite some hints of "cautious optimism" by U.N. officials.

Since June, Turkey has beefed up its military forces in Northern Cyprus by an estimated 5,000 men.

Diplomats point out that most of the time the Greek side has underestimated Turkish intentions and Turkish threats, including the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Now the Greeks feel that Turkey must be careful in view of its own hope to join the European Union.

The two Cypriot leaders Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash are expected to meet again in New York in October.

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