- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Diplomatic skirmishes have intensified between Greece and Turkey as the European Union prepares to decide at a Dec. 17 summit whether to set a date for talks on Turkey’s membership application.

The pre-summit climate also was marred by what Greece says are increasing violations of its Aegean Sea airspace by Turkish warplanes and a hardening of Turkey’s views on its EU membership credentials.

Cyprus, an EU member since May, periodically hints that it might use its veto to prevent the summit participants from setting a date for the start of negotiations on Turkey’s accession. Those negotiations could last as long as a decade.

Greek-Cypriots insist that unless Turkey recognizes their government, it has no legal right to join the 25-nation European community.

This stance is backed by Greece, with Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos saying that “nonrecognition of an EU member by a candidate country is a political and institutional absurdity.”

Various EU officials have warned of mounting problems in the path of Turkey’s European aspirations, an attitude that the country considers provocative.

Statements from Ankara indicate a hardening of its position on EU requirements and a rejection of suggestions that Turkey recognize the Greek-Cypriot government as the legitimate government of this East Mediterranean island.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has stressed that Turkey will not be satisfied with lengthy negotiations nor a “special relationship” short of full membership, as suggested by several EU member nations.

“For us, negotiations mean negotiations for full membership,” Mr. Gul told the Turkish daily Zaman. “No alternative is possible for us.”

Officially, Greece and the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government say that entering the European Union would make Turkey more amenable to compromise on difficult issues. In practice, however, both are concerned about Ankara’s stand on Cyprus.

Turkey is the only backer of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), where Ankara maintains 30,000 troops.

Turkey feels that Turkish-Cypriots should be rewarded by the international community for their acceptance in April of a U.N. plan for Cypriot unity. Greek-Cypriots in a referendum rejected the formula put forward by Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations.

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