Turks insist Cyprus not EU criterion

Turkey yesterday persisted in its claim that helping solve the Cyprus issue is not a precondition for closer ties with the European Union. And the EU kept sending Ankara the message that Cyprus would be decisive for its EU aspirations. Meanwhile, veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, whom opposition parties in his breakaway statelet blame for not agreeing to reunification with Greek Cypriots, said yesterday that he would resign as negotiator if the opposition wins «by a great majority» in elections on Dec. 14. In Rome, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul met with his counterparts from EU members Italy and Ireland, Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. «The Cyprus problem does not constitute one of the political criteria set out at Copenhagen, but Ankara wants a solution and hopes that this can happen before May 2004,» Gul said, referring to the date on which Cyprus will join the EU. Last week the Commission warned Ankara of «serious obstacles» in its own path toward the EU if it did not help solve the Cyprus problem. «There will be democratic elections on the island, I hope that afterward, once there will be a new government, both parties will begin negotiations to find a solution before May 2004,» Gul told reporters. «We desire a solution for Cyprus, and we are ready to support any initiative for Cyprus, but we need to be realistic. Both parties will have to compromise,» he said. Verheugen praised the «speed and quality of political reforms» in Turkey. Before the talks, Solana said the elections in northern Cyprus «are very important; the result may be that the people of Cyprus will show willingness» to join the EU. He also warned that it would be «very difficult» to accept any significant changes to a detailed proposal on a solution to the crisis by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In an interview with the Turkish daily Hurriyet yesterday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged Ankara to be «reasonable» on Cyprus. «We need logic. We have to find a solution,» he said. «It is in no one’s interest for Cyprus to join the European Union in its current state.»