A new Turkish riddle

Turkey joined a customs union with Cyprus and the nine other most recent EU members on Saturday but stopped short of officially recognizing the Cypriot government. The decision had proved a dilemma for Turkey, as it wanted to progress in its relations with the expanding Union, especially as it hopes to become a member in the relatively near future but was also wary of giving legitimacy to the Cypriot government. «The amendment of our internal legislation does not imply in any way the recognition of the Greek-Cypriot administration by Turkey,» said a statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday. Turkey originally entered into a customs union with the EU in 1995, allowing goods to be moved freely between the countries that have signed the agreement. However, with the European Commission due to release its report on Wednesday on Turkey’s suitability as a candidate for EU membership, Ankara was under pressure to resolve at least one of the stumbling blocks in its relations with Cyprus. The Turkish statement insisted that it would continue to pursue its «special relationship» with the north of the island. It also asked the EU to proceed with its promises to ease the international isolation of Turkish-occupied Cyprus as a reward for the support Turkish Cypriots gave to the Annan plan. «Turkey wishes to stress once more that it is time to stop imposing on the Turkish side, which has demonstrated clearly its will for a solution, restrictions it does not in any way deserve,» the Foreign Ministry statement said. Ankara is hoping that this latest move will help clear the way for Brussels to push through 259 million euros’ worth of economic aid to northern Cyprus. «What the European Council needs to do is to find ways to enact the measures,» said Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. Talat is also hoping the EU will allow direct trade between his statelet and the Union. So far, Cyprus has objected to both measures. However, Ankara’s insistence on calling the Turkish-occupied northern Cypriot enclave a «state» led to the cancellation of a meeting between foreign ministers from the EU and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which had been due to take place today and tomorrow in Istanbul. This may tarnish some of the luster of Ankara’s move on Saturday.