Turks derail EU-OIC talks over Cyprus

ANKARA (AFP) – A row with Brussels on the status of Turkish Cypriots forced Turkey yesterday to scrap talks it was to host between the European Union and Muslim nations, in another tense episode ahead of a crucial decision on the country’s bid to join the EU. Officials in Ankara were quick to dismiss fears that the spat would have an adverse impact on a December 17 verdict by EU leaders on whether to start accession talks with Turkey. «The cancellation of the gathering has no bearing on the decision to be taken regarding Turkey – there is no link whatsoever between the two issues,» a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. The row came hot on the heels of a crisis between Turkey and the EU that was resolved last week when Ankara backed down on plans to criminalize adultery. On Wednesday, the European Commission is set to release a key report, widely expected to be favorable, on Turkey’s progress toward EU membership. The informal meeting between foreign ministers from the EU and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), set for Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul, collapsed after the EU’s Dutch presidency called on fellow members to boycott the talks amid a dispute on how the Turkish Cypriots would take part. [«The plan was to have Turkish Cypriots represent the Turkish-Cypriot state,» Frits Kemperman, a spokesman for the Dutch government, said. «We object to that. We do not recognize such a state.»] The gathering was intended to promote better ties and understanding between Europe and Muslim countries. «We regret that an important initiative, aimed at contributing to world peace by promoting dialogue between civilizations and cultures, has been prevented due to such an unessential reason,» the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. EU officials also had some harsh words for Ankara. «I’m surprised that Turkey is risking a new row with Europe in the middle of an important phase of its EU candidacy,» one diplomat told AFP. He described Turkey’s attitude as «a remarkable example of amateurism ahead of the historical December 17 decision.»