Ecevit threats cast a cloud over Cem visit

Tomorrow’s visit to Athens by Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is expected to be overshadowed by the threat by his prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, published in a Sunday interview, that Ankara could annex occupied northern Cyprus if the island republic enters the European Union in its present divided state. Yesterday, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said Ecevit’s statements – along with claims yesterday by Turkish Minister of State for Cyprus Sukru Sina Gurel that Greece and Cyprus support terrorist groups – will be raised by Foreign Minister George Papandreou during his talks with Cem. The Turkish foreign minister arrives tomorrow evening for a two-day visit which was to focus on agreements for joint diplomatic training schemes and the creation of a common unit to handle natural disasters. In the spirit of relaxed bonhomie assiduously cultivated by Cem and Papandreou over the past two years, the Turkish foreign minister will open an exhibition of his travel photos at the Athens municipal art gallery. Now, Cem is expected to be taken up on Ecevit’s statements, published in Sunday’s Milliyet paper, that Turkey could annex the northern part of Cyprus it invaded in 1974 and has occupied since. Yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said Athens would be calm in its response. These statements do not surprise us, and are yet another indication of the impasse Turkish policy on Cyprus has reached, he said. Cyprus is unhindered on its way to European Union accession. And Cypriot government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou called Ecevit’s statements clumsy and undiplomatic. Following meetings in Ankara yesterday with Turkish officials, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, implied that Ankara must make an effort toward the island’s reunification before the question of Cyprus’s EU membership comes to a decision. Let’s concentrate on the matter at hand, which is getting a settlement, he told journalists. De Soto, who met Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot officials on Friday, is due in Athens today on the final leg of his regional tour.

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