Turkish FM: No plans for annexation

In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, stressed yesterday that efforts to solve the Cyprus problem would continue. Although the island’s EU accession had complicated things, they said, they hoped a solution could be reached. Gul said that, unlike previous governments, this one was not threatening to annex the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus if the island joined the EU, which it is to do on May 1, 2004, following its signing an accession treaty last Wednesday. «Our wish and our frank efforts are aimed at solving the problem within the year,» Gul told the CNN-Turk television channel. In this way, he said, the Turkish Cypriots could join the EU as the vanguard of Turkey and the Turkish language. «Our difference with former governments is that they said they would annex northern Cyprus if the Greek Cypriots joined the European Union but we will not do the same. We will keep working for a solution up to the last moment,» Gul said. His comments were re-transmitted and translated by Greece’s NET state television. Previous governments, before Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party won an outright majority in November’s elections, had said they could annex northern Cyprus if the island joined the EU with a settlement. Erdogan, speaking on Turkey’s private ATV channel, repeated his previous comment that «not solving the problem is not the solution.» Erdogan, however, noted that «in my opinion, a very serious mistake has been made» by the EU in what he termed including Cyprus in the group photo that was taken after Wednesday’s Accession Treaty signing. He stressed that Turkey would stick with the negotiations. «We should never be the side which escapes from negotiations, we should always put forward our attitude that we favor negotiations,» he said, the Anatolia news agency reported. Gul said the «worst-case scenario» would be the failure to find a solution at all, thereby postponing Turkish-Cypriot entry into the EU until Turkey itself becomes a member, the Agence France-Presse quoted him saying.