- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 11 (UPI) — The European Commission Tuesday warned Turkey that it risked blowing its chances of joining the EU unless it formally recognized Cyprus, the divided island state that is due to enter the 15-member bloc next year.

Turkey, which invaded the northern third of the Mediterranean island in 1974, is the only country in the world not to acknowledge the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus.

Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told reporters that if Ankara did not recognize the southern part of the island before May 1 2004 — the date Cyprus is expected to accede to the Union — "it seems very difficult to envisage the start of membership talks with Turkey."

In December, EU leaders promised the Muslim state that membership negotiations could begin in late 2004 if it fulfilled the club's strict human rights criteria.

However, the latest condition could permanently damage Ankara's hopes of joining the ever-expanding European club.

U.N.-brokered talks aimed at reunifying the island collapsed early Tuesday after both sides refused to accept the power-sharing plan put forward by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"We have reached the end of the road," Annan said at the end of a marathon negotiating session between the leaders of the two communities in The Hague.

The commission, the EU's powerful executive arm, also expressed its "regret" at the diplomatic deadlock. An agreement would have unfrozen over $250 million of EU funding earmarked for the northern part of the island, Filori said.

Commission officials said failure to strike a deal in the Dutch capital made it "highly unlikely" a unified Cyprus would join the European Union next year.

An accession treaty setting out Nicosia's terms of entry is expected to be signed in Athens on April 16. Malta and eight former communist states are also slated to accede to the Union on the same date.

The stalemate between the two sides also opens up the possibility of Turkey — a future EU member — illegally occupying part of another European Union state if the Republic of Cyprus enters the Brussels-based club next year.

Filori said the commission remained committed to Ankara's membership bid, but admitted that "at some stage we will face a very complicated political situation we will have to manage."

A spokesman for the Turkish embassy in Brussels told United Press International that Ankara "refused categorically the EU's unacceptable stance."

"We are in Cyprus as a guarantor power and there is no U.N. resolution calling Turkey an occupying state," said the diplomat.

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