After weeks of intense negotiations, Nicosia yesterday tentatively put its signature to the statement which paves the way for Turkey to begin membership talks with the EU next month but also forces Ankara to recognize Cyprus before it eventually joins the Union. After some last-minute wavering, both Nicosia and Athens appear to have achieved the goals they steadfastly sought during negotiations in Brussels last month. «Turkey has already been made aware that the Republic of Cyprus will play an important and substantive role in its [Turkey’s] negotiations,» said Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou. «And that will help any process that is chosen to resolve the Cyprus problem.» Yesterday’s meeting of the Council of Permanent Representatives – the main forum for discussion of the statement – put the finishing touches to a document that has been the subject of scrutiny since June. «It was a complex process and we negotiated over each word [of the statement],» said Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos. Ankara’s decision then to extend its customs union with the 10 newest members of the EU but to also issue a statement in which it expressly stated that this did not imply recognition of Cyprus rocked the EU’s boat and led to doubt among the 25 member states about Turkey’s whole accession process. The counter-declaration makes it clear that Turkey’s statement is unilateral and has no legal effect. It also informs Ankara that the EU expects «full non-discriminatory» implementation of the customs protocol, meaning that Turkey has to open its harbors and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes. This process will be monitored by the EU and evaluated next year and any problems could impact on the progress of Ankara’s membership talks, which are due to start on October 3. Equally, Turkey is reminded that «recognition of all member states is a necessary component of the accession process,» implying that Ankara has to recognize Nicosia before it actually becomes a member of the EU. These were all points that Nicosia and Athens had insisted on and were very satisfied to see included. «I spoke about five or six aims. These aims have been achieved,» said Koumoutsakos.