- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s formal notice that it plans no concessions on Cyprus has plunged the European Union into a deadlock on whether to proceed with talks on closer ties or eventual membership of the majority Muslim state.

Diplomats see no easy way out of the dilemma after Saturday’s statement by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “there is no concession whatever that we will be giving or making until October 3.”

That is the date on which the European Union is to begin membership negotiations with Turkey that risk dragging on for years amid growing opposition across Europe — opposition that is increasingly resented by Turkish politicians.

Cyprus, a new member of the European Union, is ruled by an ethnic Greek government. However, an enclave in the north is ruled by an ethnic Turkish government and remains outside the European Union.

In his latest statement, Mr. Erdogan stressed that Turkey had fulfilled all EU requirements for the start of the talks and that “there is nothing else Turkey needs to do.”

In an atmosphere described by diplomats as “zero progress once more,” Mr. Erdogan reiterated his refusal to recognize the Greek-Cypriot administration as the legitimate government of the divided Mediterranean island.

Ankara backs the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is protected by its expeditionary corps, and considers the existence of two separate governments united in a vague confederation as the only viable solution.

The Turkish stance also means that despite its signing of a trade protocol covering the 10 most recent EU members, including Cyprus, Turkey intends to continue its ban on Cypriot ships and aircraft.

The ban has considerably reduced the attraction of Cyprus as a popular “flag of convenience.”

According to the latest figures, the Cyprus ship registry has dropped from 2,500 two years ago to a little more than 1,000 now.

Turkey’s policy was decried by Thomas Kazakos, general secretary of the Cyprus Shipping Council, as a “flagrant violation of EU rules.”

In view of Turkey’s latest statement, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis asked the European Union to clarify its rules by spelling out whether a candidate nation can refuse to recognize one its members.

“Greece supports Turkey’s course toward Europe, but this support is not unconditional,” Mr. Karamanlis said. “Someone cannot just come along and refuse to respect basic obligations it has previously assumed.”

European supporters of the Turkish candidacy feel that a delay in the talks would strengthen the Islamist faction as well as the right-wing nationalists trying to pull Turkey away from its commitment to the West and the European Union.

Ankara’s European aspirations are also backed by the United States, which considers Turkey to be a stabilizing factor in one of the world’s most volatile areas.

Membership in the European Union could only increase Turkey’s stability and its impact on the area, U.S. officials say.

Turkey is a member of the NATO military alliance.

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