- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The Turkish government this week tried to minimize the impact of the European Union’s threat to partially freeze accession talks, saying its foreign policy remained unchanged.

The watchword in Ankara’s official circles is “continuation in the same direction,” said a senior official, who rejected EU insistence that Turkey must open its airports and harbors to traffic from Cyprus.

In Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot government said the bloc was giving Turkey too much leeway, thus damaging efforts to find a solution to the Mediterranean island’s partition.

Despite the EU threat to freeze eight key aspects of the accession talks, Turkish officials said the Greek Cypriot air and maritime traffic would be allowed only after an economic boycott of the Turkish Cypriot zone in the north of the island is lifted.

On Wednesday, the European Commission, the EU executive body, rejected Turkey’s condition, stressing that all candidates for membership in the 25-nation bloc must conform to its rules.

“It’s Turkey, which should adjust to EU regulations, and not vice versa,” an EU official said, stressing that Turkey was a signatory to the protocol governing trade relations with the 10 latest EU members, including Cyprus.

EU officials said the proposed halt in discussions of eight of the 35 “accession chapters” would be applied only after approval at the EU summit meeting in mid-December. Some EU heads of government, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, say the bloc should refrain from “sending a negative signal” to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation of 70 million.

Nonetheless, the EU Commission’s recommendation was a significant warning and a blow to Turkey’s ambition to join what some in the Turkish press call “the Christian Europe.” EU membership is the cornerstone of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy.

The Turkish press was comforted by a statement attributed to visiting Pope Benedict XVI saying he “encourages the passage of dialogue for inserting Turkey in the EU, on the basis of specific common values.” The pontiff, earlier this year, opposed Turkey’s EU membership.

Meanwhile, Greek Cypriot officials and politicians described the European Commission’s warning as inadequate, saying it reduced the pressure on Turkey and consequently prolonged the long-lasting political stalemate on the island.

“We disagree and we insist that the EU should send a clear message to Turkey that it can’t ignore its obligations under EU law,” said Andros Kyprianou, spokesman for the Progressive Party of Working People, the dominant communist party known by its acronym AKEL.

Government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis described the EU action as the “ratification of the ease that only Turkey enjoys by not fulfilling its obligations.”

Since the beginning of its EU negotiations a year ago, Turkey has been warning that there is no question of compromise in its attitude toward Cyprus, where Ankara maintains an expeditionary force and backs a separate government of the Turkish Cypriots.

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