Talat: Pressuring Ankara to recognize Cyprus may backfire

NICOSIA – Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat warned yesterday that forcing Turkey to recognize Cyprus before the island’s division is resolved could destroy prospects for a solution and potentially lead to civil war. In an interview with The Associated Press, Talat said Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union – to start on October 3 – could force Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos to return to the negotiating table, but accused the Greek-Cypriot leader of not wanting to solve the problem or even talk to the Turkish-Cypriot side. Talat said he did not believe it would be possible for Turkey to recognize the Cypriot government before a solution is found. Forcing Turkey to do so is «not imaginable» and such an act by Ankara would effectively mean «deserting the Turkish Cypriots,» Talat said. «Just imagine if it is done… What will happen? I mean we are still alive, the Turkish Cypriots are living in the north and they will defend themselves. This will cause a civil war maybe. It is more dangerous,» he added, invoking images of the intercommunal violence that ravaged Cyprus from 1963 to 1974. He made the comments before the European Parliament postponed its vote yesterday on the ratification of Turkey’s customs union with the EU over Ankara’s refusal to recognize Cyprus. «Recognizing Cyprus as it is means non-solution» of the island’s division, Talat said in his office just north of the Green Line, the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the island. The EU Parliament’s decision will have no effect on the starting date for Turkey’s accession negotiations. In July, Turkey signed an agreement to expand its customs union with the EU to include all 25 EU member states – including Cyprus. But Ankara said its signature did not amount to recognition of the Cypriot government. Last week, EU governments said Turkey must recognize Cyprus during its membership talks, warning that not doing so could paralyze the negotiations. Talat said he hoped Ankara’s membership talks would lead the international community to understand the importance of a solution and force Cyprus back to the negotiating table. Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification plan in a referendum on April 2004. Turkish Cypriots had voted to approve the accord, drafted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Talat said he felt bitter that the international community abandoned Turkish Cypriots after they approved Annan’s plan. «Turkish Cypriots were expecting a better treatment from the international community.» he said. «Turkish Cypriots were expecting direct flights, possibly direct trade to the world, opening of ports to the international community, to imports and exports.» Talat, however, saved most of his bitterness for Papadopoulos and his administration – which he claimed did not favor a federal solution but wanted a unitary state instead. «The biggest obstacle is the government,» Talat said. «His government is the most regressive government we have ever faced in Cyprus in terms of a Cyprus solution.»