NEWS

Turkey’s EU bid under pressure

NICOSIA – Turkey’s smooth progression to EU membership could be the principal casualty of a no-show by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in New York, where peace talks on divided Cyprus were to resume today. Denktash pointedly and publicly declined a personal invitation from UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan for further discussions to resolve the question of Cyprus, which has been split since a 1974 Turkish invasion. It has repercussions for Ankara’s EU process, a diplomatic source here told AFP. If anybody thinks Turkey can join the EU without a solution to the Cyprus problem, they are mad. Turkey’s accession terms to join the European Union include facilitating a solution to the problem of Cyprus, where the internationally recognized state of President Glafcos Clerides holds only the southern two-thirds of the isle. Denktash already abandoned so-called proximity talks with Clerides last November, demanding his breakaway state in northern Cyprus be given equal status with the government by the United Nations. Many analysts, like Neophytos Chrysochos of the European Institute think tank, believe Denktash would not have been able to snub the latest talks without receiving the green light from Ankara. There is an internal struggle in Turkey on whether it wants to be part of the EU, Chrysochos told AFP. It wants to join the EU on its own terms and is not ready to give concessions on the Cyprus problem. He added: It will take a long time for a decisive political shift. UN special envoy Alvaro de Soto, who had extensive talks with Denktash in August, said last week that Annan would not have extended the public invitation to both sides unless he was certain of a positive response. But less than an hour after the UN chief invited Clerides and Denktash for another round of negotiations on how to break the 27-year impasse, the Turkish-Cypriot leader held a press conference to say he would not attend. His gambit caught the international community off guard and miffed Britain and the United States, which are actively engaged in trying to find a settlement to the island’s division. We are deeply disappointed by Denktash’s failure to accept the secretary-general’s invitation, the spokesman for the British High Commission here, Jonathan Allen, told AFP. Clerides left for New York on Monday, telling reporters that if Denktash fails to show, then it’s up to the UN and the EU to express who bears responsibility for the lack of progress. [Clerides, however, was forced to turn back yesterday after the terrorist attacks in the United States, returning to Zurich from where he had left for New York.] It’s obvious that Mr Denktash is not interested in negotiating a solution, government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou told AFP. We are ready to talk. The United Nations said Denktash’s decision was regrettable but added it hoped he would turn up sometime this week – offering a window to reconsider by dropping the Wednesday deadline. The Turkish army rolled in and occupied the northern third of the island in July 1974 following a coup in Nicosia instigated by the dictatorship then in power in Athens, aimed at joining Cyprus to Greece. The Turkish-Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey. Meanwhile the island’s own EU accession bid is moving full steam ahead, and Cyprus remains a leading candidate for the first wave of European enlargement. If the island is not reunited before it joins Europe, earmarked for 2004, the EU has agreed Cyprus can join without a settlement in place – which has left many Turkish Cypriots scrambling for Cyprus Republic passports. Applications from Turkish Cypriots have topped 800 so far this year, doubling the 1999 figure. Cyprus passports are very much in demand by Turkish Cypriots who view EU membership as offering better financial, education and health prospects, said Chrysochos. Nothing can be won by not going to the talks, the diplomatic source said. Everybody felt Denktash was going to go and the fact that he hasn’t is a dampener and doesn’t help the situation.