Athens slams Erdogan over Cyprus

Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis on Tuesday reacted sharply to a threat by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to freeze relations with the European Union unless a settlement is found for the Cyprus problem before Nicosia assume the bloc?s rotating presidency next year.

?Instead of showing the will for a solution, it is trying to dictate to the EU its composition and way of operating,? Lambrinidis said. He added that Erdogan?s comments demonstrate ?that the essence of the Cyprus problem is the invasion and continued occupation [of the island],? describing as illegal the planned visit by Erdogan to the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus today, the 37th anniversary of Turkey?s invasion of the island.

Lambrinidis was responding to a strongly worded statement by Erdogan published in the Turkish daily Milliyet yesterday. ?We will not have any discussions with the Cypriot president,? Erdogan said, referring to Dimitris Christofias. ?Our contacts with the EU will be frozen,? the statement added. ?We consider it a disgrace to sit down at the negotiating table with [the Greek Cypriots] at the United Nations. We will not negotiate with a country which we do not recognize,? Erdogan concluded.

Christofias condemned the comments as ?utterly reprehensible.? ?If the Turkish side pursues this line there is no chance of any real progress,? Christofias said, referring to ongoing UN-mediated peace talks.

Separately, Markos Kyprianou formally resigned as foreign minister yesterday over a fatal blast at a military munitions dump near Limassol. Kyprianou, who offered his resignation on Monday, said he had not accepted Christofias?s appeal to stay.

Lambrinidis also expressed his support yesterday for the Cyprus president?s efforts in peace talks, a move interpreted by some as an expression of support for Christofias?s increasingly fragile coalition government.