Time for a new Cyprus push, EU Parliament chief declares

NICOSIA (AFP) – European Parliament President Josep Borrell called yesterday for a new initiative to reunify the divided island of Cyprus, seizing on the momentum built by the opening of EU membership talks with Turkey. «I think we have to use the momentum created by the opening of negotiations with Turkey in order to (launch) a new initiative on a Cyprus settlement,» Borrell told reporters after talks with Turkish-Cypriot officials in the breakaway north of the island. «We would like the talks between the two sides to start again in order to find a solution that could be acceptable for both communities,» he said. The latest international effort to end the island’s partition failed in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriots voted down a UN-drafted reunification plan, despite overwhelming support from the Turkish Cypriots. The result meant that only the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government joined the EU in May 2004, while the Turkish Cypriots, who maintain a self-proclaimed state recognized only by Turkey, were left out in the cold. The UN plan has since been put in the freezer, but Borrell, who is in Cyprus on a week-long fact-finding tour, stressed that the blueprint was still a valid basis for a settlement. «We are disappointed that Greek Cypriots did not approve it. We still think this plan is a basis to be taken into consideration,» he said. After the rejection of the UN draft, the Cyprus issue appeared to be an obstacle to Turkey’s own European aspirations, with tensions rising over Ankara’s refusal to acknowledge the Cyprus government. After intense bargaining between EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Turkey on Tuesday formally began membership talks with the EU after Austria dropped demands to offer the largely Muslim country a «privileged partnership» rather than full membership. Turkey argues that it will not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government in Nicosia until a comprehensive settlement is reached on the island, while EU officials warn that Ankara cannot join the bloc without recognizing all of its members. Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou lashed out at Turkey yesterday for behaving like an «Anatolian bazaar» trader at the talks in Luxembourg. Turkey raised objections to the accession framework, saying it prevented Ankara from denying Cyprus the right to join international organizations such as NATO. «The debate was a complete red herring, a public relations stunt for Turkish public opinion,» Iacovou told state radio. The foreign minister said he told British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during the membership talks that Turkish leaders were playing «publicity tricks.» Once a deal was struck, Iacovou was unhappy about the way EU foreign ministers were made to wait for their Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to turn up in Luxembourg. «It was shameful for 25 foreign ministers and a prime minister, that of Croatia, to wait around in the corridors for Mr Gul to play out his performance for the Turkish media,» he said. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek-Cypriot coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.