- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

GENEVA — The European Union has agreed on a compromise declaration to stave off a crisis over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government and to open its ports and airports to ships and planes from Cyprus.

The stand on the ships goes against Turkey’s customs agreement with the European Union.

The joint statement by EU foreign ministers allows talks on Turkey’s accession to the union to open as scheduled on Oct. 3.

While urging Turkey to “normalize” its relations with Cyprus and its internationally recognized government, the declaration merely states that Turkey’s attitude cannot affect the so-called “Ankara protocol” guaranteeing trade and customs agreements within the 25-nation union.

Diplomats described the formula as a face-saving device, postponing rather than permanently removing the threat of an imbroglio over Cyprus, where Turkey backs the ostracized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

A number of EU leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac, opposed the start of accession talks since Turkey refuses to recognize Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, without the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

“It is impossible to open negotiations with a country which does not recognize one of the union members,” Mr. Chirac said.

However, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the EU had never demanded that Turkey recognize Cyprus as a condition for opening accession talks and it could not suddenly move the goal posts at the last minute.

“Of course, we will make it clear that Cyprus … has to be recognized before the Turks can become members, but not before starting negotiations. That has never been a demand,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying in Newport, Wales.

For the past 40 years Turkey has been thwarted in its European aspirations, which are based on the fact that 5 percent of its territory lies on the European side of the Bosporus.

Following its 1974 invasion of Cyprus in response to a Greek coup, Turkey has maintained 35,000 troops in the north of the east Mediterranean island.

In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. proposal to unify the island. It was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots.

In its desire to begin Turkey’s accession process, the European Commission, the EU executive body, has been frequently evasive about Ankara’s refusal to recognize Cyprus and its view that such recognition can only come after a solution to the island’s partition.

In a recent statement, commission spokeswoman Francoise Le Bail said that while “it would be useful to solve the Cyprus problem, and all Turkish efforts in that direction would be welcome, however, it is not a legal requirement for the [accession] negotiations.”

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