- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Northern Cyprus President Mehmet Ali Talat says the European Union has failed to follow through on a pledge to end the isolation of his self-proclaimed republic, doing less in that respect than the United States.

The European Union has earmarked $300 million in aid to the north as a reward for its citizens’ acceptance of a U.N. plan for reunification of the island in a 2004 referendum. Greek Cypriots on the southern half of the island overwhelmingly rejected the plan.

But in two years since the referendums, the Europeans “haven’t moved,” Mr. Talat said during a recent interview in this divided capital.

“The United States is doing more to end the isolation of north Cyprus than the EU,” he said.

The sense of isolation is acute in this community of 260,000 people, which Turkish forces occupied in 1974 after a coup by Athens-backed Greek Cypriots. Ankara still has more than 30,000 troops in the north, and Turkey is the only country in the world to recognize the Turkish Cypriot ministate.

There are no direct flights to north Cyprus, phone calls and postal services are administered by Turkey, and most countries are forbidden from trading with the republic.

“Socially, we feel the isolation,” said Cim Kiyat, a 24-year-old interpreter. “No pop stars come here. There is no McDonald’s. We can’t have a football match with a foreign team, and you cannot leave the country to go abroad without passing though Istanbul.”

While Europe has done little to end that isolation, the United States has twice invited Mr. Talat to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor, Colin L. Powell.

More recently, a delegation of U.S. congressmen visited the north to look at ways of ending its quarantine, and the Bush administration has extended the length of visas for Turkish Cypriots and allocated funds to help the ailing economy.

In the interview, Mr. Talat argued for increased efforts to bring his territory into the international community.

“By lifting the isolation, the unification of the island will become more imminent,” he said.

In a separate interview, Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer pledged that if the north’s ports and airports are allowed to open and the international trade blockade is lifted, the republic would fully open its borders to the south and create a common economic space on the island.

But the U.N. reunification plan — which was rejected by three-quarters of Greek Cypriots on the same day it was accepted by two-thirds of Turkish Cypriots — is on hold, and there is little sign of it being revived.

Greek-Cypriot parties that campaigned against the plan were rewarded with gains in parliamentary elections 10 days ago.

Asked if he would agree to face-to-face negotiations with Republic of Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, Mr. Talat replied: “I am ready for talks anytime he wants. I’ve invited him many times to meet — socially or formally — but he has continuously declined.”


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