NEWS

Turkey under pressure

Pressure from Athens and Nicosia on their EU partners over Ankara’s non-recognition of Cyprus ahead of its accession talks finally appeared to be paying off yesterday as European diplomats were poised to officially criticize Turkey’s stance. «The British presidency presented today… a new text for Europe’s reply to the well-known unilateral statement from Turkey,» said Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos. Greece and Cyprus had blasted the failure of EU officials to condemn Turkey during a meeting of permanent representatives in Brussels on Wednesday. Turkey signed an extension to its EU customs protocol at the end of July but attached a statement saying that did not mean that it recognized Cyprus. The informal two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Newport, Wales is focusing on Turkey’s bid to join the Union as Ankara is due to start membership talks on October 3. Athens and Nicosia have led attempts to force some concessions over the recognition of Cyprus before talks begin. There has been growing exasperation over the role of the British presidency of the EU in failing to exercise concerted pressure on Ankara. However, there appeared to be a shift in momentum yesterday as the new statement was said to be much more powerful than anything suggested so far. According to sources, the text of the statement discussed by the ministers voices «regret» over Ankara’s refusal to recognize Cyprus and calls for Turkey to normalize relations with all EU member states as soon as possible. Despite the shift in position, Koumoutsakos said that the statement needed to be even more forceful. «Despite the tangible improvement, the presidency’s new proposal forms a basis for further negotiation but needs further improvement,» said Koumoutsakos. He added that the Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers both asked for the discussion over the final version of the statement to be continued at the level of permanent representatives. This suggestion was accepted by the other ministers and the debate will now shift to Brussels next Wednesday. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was «reasonably confident» that membership talks between the EU and Turkey would still begin on October 3.