- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has offered to open a major seaport and an airport to longtime foe Cyprus to try to keep its European Union entry talks on track, Turkish and EU officials said yesterday. The European Union called the step positive but insufficient.

Turkey’s refusal to open its ports to Cyprus, an EU member, has emerged as a deal breaker in its negotiations to join the bloc.

The Mediterranean island has been divided into a Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the occupied north since Turkey invaded in 1974 after an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Although Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration, it has signed a customs pact agreeing to open its ports and airports to the 10 countries that joined the European Union in 2004 — including Cyprus.

A senior Turkish official said Ankara had offered to open the ports in return for trade concessions to Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island, who are unable to trade with the outside world except through Turkey.

“Turkey expects to hear from the EU Commission whether its offer has created a mutual understanding,” said a Turkish official, who requested anonymity because the bloc had not yet responded at the time he spoke.

The foreign minister of Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Turkey’s offer was a “positive indication that they are moving toward implementation” of EU conditions for continuing membership talks.

But Erkki Tuomioja added, “this is not a solution.”

He said EU foreign ministers would discuss Turkey’s offer in Brussels on Monday and that it could give the talks “a slightly more positive atmosphere.”

Cyprus’ Foreign Minister George Lilikas rejected the proposal, saying it was yet another conditional promise from Turkey to only “partially fulfill its obligation.”

“It’s a mockery of the European Union since it lacks any serious content,” Mr. Lilikas told reporters in Cyprus.

He said Turkey had offered to open the airport and one of its major seaports to Greek Cypriot vessels carrying only Greek Cypriot goods. Cyprus would in turn be asked to open trade with the breakaway state in the north through the Turkish-controlled Cypriot port of Famagusta and allow air traffic to a northern airport.

With the latest round of deal making, Ankara hopes to stave off a threatened suspension of its EU talks and to receive concrete promises that the international embargo against Turkish Cypriots would be lifted.

Cyprus joined the European Union after U.N. efforts led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reunite the island failed. Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the U.N. reunification plan shortly before Cyprus joined, while Greek Cypriots rejected it.

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