Turks pressed on Cyprus

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday expressed his dissatisfaction at the European Union’s call that Ankara recognize the Republic of Cyprus and he accused the EU of dragging its feet in ending the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots. «They have not taken a single step,» Erdogan said, referring to the EU’s promise to lift restrictions against the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in northern Cyprus after Turkish Cypriots voted to accept a UN reunification plan in April. Greek Cypriots, who rejected the plan, are now members of the European Union whereas Turkish Cypriots are not. This has placed pressure on Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus by extending the customs agreement that Ankara has with the EU to include the 10 new members, which include Cyprus. Erdogan told CNN Turk that he expected Cyprus to be fully incorporated into the customs union but he did not say when this might happen. He expressed his dissatisfaction at the pressing way in which the demand was made in the draft of the EU summit’s conclusions, saying this was a clear message for recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. Erdogan was speaking in Brussels, on the sidelines of the summit. In comments to Turkish reporters, he said he believed that the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki would probably be opened before October, when the European Commission is to present its report on whether the EU should start accession talks with Ankara. The necessary legislation allowing this is being drawn up, Erdogan said. The EU and United States have repeatedly called for the seminary to be reopened. It was closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971. Meanwhile, the US State Department coordinator for the Cyprus issue, Thomas Weston, paid the first visit by a US official to the offices of the Turkish-Cypriot representation in Washington on Thursday. He and Turkish-Cypriot representative Osman Ertug discussed US measures aimed at easing the breakaway state’s isolation. Weston said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan was not open to the renegotiation that Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos has called for. Papadopoulos, he said, «has already received his reply from the Turkish Cypriots with regard to the Annan plan and therefore will not find someone to hold the new negotiations with,» the Athens News Agency quoted Weston as saying.