- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s talks for membership in the European Union are jeopardized by a breakdown over Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

Diplomats say a paralysis of the negotiations would seriously damage Turkey’s European aspirations, one of the pillars of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy.

Nonetheless, Mr. Erdogan repeated over the weekend his opposition to Greek Cypriot air and maritime traffic until the economic blockade of the Turkish Cypriot community is lifted.

“As long as the Turkish Cypriots remain isolated, we will not open our ports and airports,” he said. “If the EU negotiations stop, then let them stop.”

Early Turkish political reactions indicated support for the decision, despite its devastating potential, but the Turkish lira slipped against the dollar in unofficial trading.

Turkish analysts think the nationalistic feelings prevailing in Turkey will reinforce Mr. Erdogan’s stand, particularly in view of the drop in popularity of his ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym, AKP.

Last week, an EU summit meeting in Brussels called on Turkey to honor its commitment to the Customs Union protocol to admit ships and planes of the 10 most recent members, including Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriots, isolated in the north of the island, do not participate in the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.

The EU heads of state called on Turkey for a “commitment to good neighborly relations” and to avoid “actions that could negatively affect the process of peaceful settlement of disputes.” The statement was applauded by the entire Greek Cypriot political spectrum, which regards the Turkish Cypriot area as an illegal entity resulting from the 1974 Turkish invasion.

Seeking to avoid an immediate crisis, the EU said it hoped Turkey would reconsider its attitude before the end of the year. Turkey and the European Union have completed negotiations on the first of the 35 policy chapters required for EU membership.

Some EU leaders were blunt in their appraisal of the situation. French President Jacques Chirac said Ankara’s continued defiance would jeopardize its European hopes. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg urged a freeze on further discussions.

In Cyprus, the cause of the latest imbroglio between Turkey and the European Union, the situation was interpreted as a setback to prospects of resuming negotiations on the island’s reunification.

The Greek Cypriots objected to a statement by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that said the Greek Cypriot entry into the European Union and the Turkish candidacy are complicating the search for a solution in Cyprus. Andreas Mavroyiannis, the Greek Cypriot representative, delivered an official protest to the United Nations in New York.

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