Turkey would open ports to Cyprus, no diplomatic strings

Turkey offered to bow to EU demands and open its ports, airports and airspace to Cyprus under what it called a «Taiwanese-style» diplomatic arrangement to help drive Cypriot reunification talks resuming on Monday under UN pressure for a breakthrough.

The European Union Ankara seeks to join demands Turkey end an embargo on Greek Cypriot traffic that damages Nicosia’s economy. Turkey for its part says the EU should ease isolation of breakaway Turkish northern Cyprus, something Greek Cypriots reject as implicit recognition of a renegade state.

Turkish EU minister Egemen Bagis told Reuters he believed a simple arrangement could help free up talks over the east Mediterranean island that has brought NATO partners Greece and Turkey to the brink of war on several occasions.

Exploration for natural gas around the island, and disputes over sovereign rights, has again raised international concerns.

“The minute a British Airways, an Air France, a KLM, a Lufthansa plane lands at Ercan airport (in northern Cyprus), Turkey is ready to open all of her airports, sea ports and air space to Greek Cypriot planes and vessels,» Bagis said.

Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has direct air links only with Turkey. It is also excluded from international sport, finance and trade.

Greek Cypriots, who represent the whole of Cyprus in the EU but whose authority is effectively confined to its south, fear any recognition of the breakaway state could make partition permanent.

“The fact that an Al Italia or an Air France plane is landing at Ercan would not mean that they recognise the TRNC (northern Cyprus),» Bagis said in an interview late on Sunday. «This would be like the Taiwanese model – a trade relationship.”

Many states, forced by Beijing to choose between China and breakaway Taiwan, choose diplomatic ties with the former; but Taiwan retains international contacts on a trading basis.

It was the first time Turkey had officially invoked the «Taiwanese model», seeking explicitly to decouple such ties from any suggestion of diplomatic recognition.

Turkey’s ban on Cypriot traffic has been a significant, though by no means the only, hindrance to United Nations-sponsored talks to reunite the island.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots were due to meet a UN special envoy on Monday for the first time since Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summoned them to New York early this month to try to speed a deal.

The talks take place at an airport abandoned in a ‘no-man’s land’ since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 and seized the northern third of the island in response to a coup by militant Greek Cypriots seeking union, or Enosis, with Greece.

Asked if Turkey had a ‘plan B’ if talks to reunite the island failed, Bagis replied: «Turkey has a ‘plan B’, Turkey has a ‘plan C’ a ‘plan D’ and even a ‘plan F’. But let’s keep it to ourselves for now.”

An arrangement over the travel restrictions could help move talks along, but other important differences remain.

The two sides have yet to agree on the powers of a central government. Turkish Cypriots want a weak central administration and greater autonomy for the island’s constituent Turkish and Greek territories.

The also have yet to agree on territorial swaps and questions of property restitution rooted in the 1974 partition. Ban has called for another meeting in New York in January.

Progress could further be hampered when Cyprus, which has managed to freeze key parts of Turkey’s accession talks with the EU because of the ongoing conflict, takes over the presidency of the European Union for six months next year. Negotiations already stalled will effectively be frozen.

Ankara argues that under the EU’s own treaties, Cyprus with its unsettled territorial questions should never have been allowed in the EU, let alone with a mandate to represent the whole of the island.

“Now this half-country, this incomplete country will take over the EU presidency,» Gul said in a recent newspaper interview. There will be a half presidency leading a miserable union.”

But Bagis said that for all Turkey’s problems with EU negotiations, and its recent diplomatic openings to the Arab world, Ankara would stick by its European ambitions.

“The EU is still the grandest peace project in the history of mankind,» he said.