Turkey bites back on Cyprus

Ankara rebuffed claims yesterday by Athens and Nicosia that it is not cooperating in the effort to find a solution to the Cyprus problem and insisted that it has done everything that has been asked of it. «Turkey has fulfilled its commitments on the Cyprus issue,» said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. «Even though we have met our obligations, they continue to criticize us. If the other side had done everything it promised, there would no longer be a Cyprus issue.» Erdogan was reacting to statements by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos after the two met on Wednesday. Karamanlis accused Ankara of using «delaying tactics» over restarting Cyprus talks under the auspices of the United Nations. Papadopoulos charged that Turkey made «threats and provocations» after Nicosia revealed it was pursuing offshore oil and gas exploration projects. Turkey’s influential National Security Council is due to meet today to discuss this issue, among others. Armed forces chief Yasar Buyukanit caused concern in Athens and Nicosia earlier this month when he claimed that Turkey’s rights to explore undersea oil and gas reserves extend to the center of the Mediterranean. He also stressed that Turkish warships are constantly patrolling the Aegean and Mediterranean. An official from the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus claimed yesterday that Nicosia does not have the right to represent the whole island in oil exploration deals. «No agreement without our views and signature will be valid,» said Turgay Avci after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Ankara. Meanwhile, Archbishop Chrysostomos of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the top Muslim cleric in occupied northern Cyprus, Ahmet Yonluer, met for the first time on the island yesterday. Chrysostomos described the meeting as «a positive step forward» and said the pair had agreed to tackle the issue of renovating abandoned churches in the north of the island and fixing crumbling mosques in the south.