Turkey’s EU aim may hinge on Cypriot talks

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s swift show of willingness to help shape the future of Afghanistan has won praise and perhaps financial rewards from the West, but another ethnic impasse closer to home bars membership of the Western club that Turkey most wants to join. Many believe the 27-year division of Cyprus is one of the biggest obstacles to Turkey’s European Union membership, adding urgency to talks between the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cypriots set to resume next month after a yearlong delay. Cyprus heads the list of candidates to join the union, and EU approval for the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government’s bid could come as early as next year. If that happens, Turkey has threatened to annex the island’s north, where it maintains 35,000 troops in a breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state that only Turkey recognizes. Turkey says a solution on Cyprus should come before EU membership. Turkey’s Parliament will hold a closed session today on Cyprus. Ministers say they are ready to pay the costs of closer integration with the north, but some warn that those costs will be too high. Without a doubt, it would mean turning Turkey’s EU membership into the most distant of dreams, or abandoning Turkey’s candidacy altogether, wrote Ismet Berkan in the daily Radikal. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has gone further, warning that Cyprus’s admission to the EU could spark a Turkish-Greek war. The two countries have come close to war three times since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in the wake of a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. Some analysts believe that the EU could try to ease Turkish concerns over Cypriot membership by promising to speed up Turkey’s own accession. Suppose Turkey knew it could start accession negotiations in the reasonably near future, said William Hale, a Turkey specialist at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Would they go ahead with all the things they’ve threatened? At the moment, Turkey’s bid to join the 15-member bloc seems to have little momentum. The latest EU report offered faint praise for Turkey’s reform efforts, saying Ankara still had a long way to go before it could open membership negotiations. Even Turkey’s deputy premier, Mesut Yilmaz, admitted Turkey had no right to be proud of its progress. Human rights and freedom of expression are among the EU’s chief concerns, along with Turkey’s determination to block access to NATO resources for a planned EU army unless it is given a voice in decision-making. A breakthrough in the Cyprus reunification talks could regain the lost momentum, but that has been an elusive prize in nearly three decades of failed initiatives. Some Turks say the only hope of a solution lies in giving both communities in Cyprus a stake in the European Union. The proposal could win the support of Turkish Cypriots concerned by the growing economic gap with their southern neighbors, said Cengiz Aktar, a specialist on Turkey-EU relations at the Istanbul think tank Bogazici Communications. I think the north realizes that this isolation cannot last for ever, he said. Don’t forget that GDP per capita in the south is 13,000 dollars, in the north it’s 3,000 dollars. The EU has always said it would prefer to admit Cyprus as a united island. But as Denktash and Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides prepare for their first face-to-face meeting in four years, there is little time to achieve this. The clock is ticking, Aktar said. Once the south joins, it will be more difficult to settle this issue. Still, talk of a scientific revolution does not inspire Zavos. What is the philosophical difference between having one person giving its DNA or two persons giving their DNA? he asks, advocating a relative morality in the name of scientific progress.

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