BRUSSELS – The European Union reaffirmed plans yesterday to admit a divided Cyprus despite the failure of UN-brokered peace talks and warned Turkey that its own bid to join the EU could now suffer. Peace talks collapsed early yesterday after the minority Turkish Cypriots rejected a deal and the United Nations announced the end of its long efforts to reunite the island before it accedes to the EU in May 2004. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, expressed regret at the breakdown of the talks, but said it was not too late for the two sides to strike a deal. «The Commission encourages all parties concerned, and in particular Turkey, to strive to achieve a settlement,» it said in a statement. Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government would now sign the accession treaty on behalf of the whole island at a planned ceremony in Athens on April 16. «This in no way prevents, if there is any subsequent agreement, the possibility of there being adaptations so that we can have the whole island inside the EU,» Filori said. Bleak message for Ankara But he had a bleak message for Turkey, an EU candidate country since 1999 but which has yet to open accession talks due to continued concerns over its human rights record. Ankara won a pledge last December that the EU would open entry negotiations without delay if a December 2004 summit agreed that it had met the political and economic criteria. The Commission is due to recommend to EU leaders by then whether it considers Turkey, a poor, largely Muslim country of 70 million, ready to open accession talks. «If by the time of the report at the end of 2004 there is still no settlement on Cyprus, we will be facing this rather weird situation where a candidate country knocking at the door does not recognize one of our own member states,» Filori said. «It appears difficult in this situation to envisage the start of accession negotiations with Turkey,» he said, echoing comments made by EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. Asked whether the EU would consider part of its territory under illegal occupation after Cyprus’s accession, Filori said: «Yes, we can look at things in that way. This occupation has always been considered illegal by the international community, including the EU. Nothing changes there.» Diplomats said the breakdown of the UN talks would hearten opponents of Turkey’s EU accession as much as hawks in Ankara keen to hold on to territory they see as strategically vital. «There are plenty of people here (in Brussels) who will be happy to use the failure of the Cyprus talks to block Turkey’s entry indefinitely,» one diplomat told Reuters. Another EU diplomat saw the demise of the Cyprus talks as a casualty of the Iraq crisis, which has severely strained ties between many EU nations and the United States. The diplomat suggested that hawks in the US Defense Department had quietly signaled to the Turkish military that Ankara would incur no punishment if it failed to cut a deal on Cyprus. ‘Mixed signals’ from US «There were mixed signals from Washington that the hardliners in Turkey could use to block a Cyprus settlement. The civilian political leadership in Turkey clearly wanted a deal, but under the current circumstances they could not prevail.» Other diplomats, however, noted that the United States had publicly and consistently backed the UN peace efforts as well as the accession of the whole of Cyprus to the EU. In any case, the entry of a divided Cyprus will remove what leverage the EU has had so far on both sides in the conflict. «Once Cyprus is inside, they (Greek Cypriots) can impose the terms of any deal,» one diplomat said.