- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The sputtering locomotive pulling Turkey toward Europe is losing steam amid signs of increasing problems in Turkey’s talks to join the 25-nation European Union.

In an effort to stave off a major crisis, the European Union has postponed by a month its much-awaited report on Turkey’s accession progress. The idea, according to diplomats, is to “give diplomacy another chance” despite negative signals from Ankara and Brussels.

The tangle of issues involves what the European Union considers to be inadequate human rights progress in Turkey and its refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic despite a binding trade convention.

The apparent hardening of Turkey’s attitude in the face of EU demands has caused a series of crisis forecasts and predictions of a “train wreck” in Turkey’s path toward Europe.

While compromise on some of Turkey’s laws dealing with women and minority rights still appears possible, diplomats say there is little hope that Turkey will recognize the Greek Cypriot government without concessions to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity recognized only by Turkey.

“Nobody should expect Ankara to open its airports and harbors to the Greek Cypriots unless the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots is ended,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently.

Turkey’s refusal to compromise on the Cyprus issue has revived Greek Cypriot calls to veto its EU application, although at present the Cypriot government considers such a gesture as extreme.

Cyprus joined the European Union two years ago but without the Turkish Cypriot part of the island. Some EU member countries asserted at the time that the “European Club” should not have admitted a fractured country with an unsolved problem likely to weigh heavily upon Europe.

Turkey says the overwhelming Turkish Cypriot approval of a United Nations plan to unite Cyprus in a referendum was a major concession. The plan was rejected by the Greek Cypriots.

A special EU negotiating team is to visit Turkey in October to discuss its admission credentials a year after accession talks started.

There is growing concern in Europe that the bloc may encounter serious problems in digesting, economically and politically, the number of countries anxious to join it. Turkey has complained that its application has been subjected to inordinately demanding scrutiny compared with that of other recently admitted countries.

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