EU talks with Turkey start after standoff

Turkey was set to begin its first round of membership negotiations with the European Union last night after the foreign ministers of 24 member states agreed to Cyprus’s demand that Ankara be reminded of its obligation to normalize relations with Nicosia. The standoff had threatened to derail the talks as Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul refused to travel to Luxembourg. However, the dispute appeared to have been resolved yesterday afternoon. Gul said he would attend the first of 35 rounds of talks that Turkey must complete before it can join the EU. Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou had insisted that before talks could start, the EU had to remind Ankara that it had to live up to the agreement it signed last July to extend its customs union. Turkey has so far not opened up its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes. A compromise was reached when Cyprus accepted that Turkey would be handed an EU document reminding it of its obligations. «Failure to implement its obligations fully will affect the overall progress in the negotiations,» the document said. «Turkey must fulfill every single requirement. There is no way out,» said Iacovou. Gul said that the opening of the talks was a «turning point» as his spokesman Namik Tan said that the foreign minister only agreed to attend the talks after a reference to Turkey’s obligation to recognize Cyprus was removed from the document. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he was not concerned by the prospect of Nicosia using its right to veto Ankara’s progress. «Currently I do not believe… members of the European Union would pay a lot of attention to a veto from that part of Cyprus,» he said during a visit to Croatia. Aegean deal agreed upon Greece and Turkey agreed in Istanbul on Saturday to a series of confidence-building measures, including the setting up of military hotlines, as the countries sought to put recent tension behind them. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and his Greek counterpart, Dora Bakoyannis, agreed that a hotline will begin operating between air force command centers in Larissa and Eskisehir on July 1. A hotline between chiefs of staff will also be set up. Among the other key measures announced in Istanbul was the decision to extend the moratorium in the Aegean by one month. From now on, neither side will conduct military exercises in the area between June 15 and September 15. Greece and Turkey also agreed that their emergency rescue teams should conduct regular training exercises together, that there should be frequent contact between coast guard chiefs and that a second bridge connecting Greece and Turkey should be built in Evros.

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