Turks soften on Cyprus?

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit appeared to acknowledge that the Republic of Cyprus’s accession to the European Union is inevitable when he was quoted as saying yesterday that this would not be «the end of the world.» In comments to Turkey’s Hurriyet daily, the prime minister who launched the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 said that if the EU went ahead with this, ignoring the existence of the breakaway statelet in northern Cyprus, «then, of course, serious problems will be created.» In the past few years, Turkish officials have uttered more dire warnings regarding the consequences of Cyprus’s joining the EU without the problem of its division first being solved. Athens avoided making an official comment on the Turkish prime minister’s remarks, which officials were examining with special interest. But the government was wary that Ecevit’s comments were made in an informal framework. Officials note also that the situation in Turkey is politically fluid due to the elections on November 3. «The Greek Cypriots may accede on their own. However much we might not like this, it’s not going to be the end of the world for us,» Ecevit said. This appeared to rule out a military clash aimed at obstructing the island’s accession. Turkish officials had never made such a claim directly but have stressed that they would react – leaving this open to various interpretations. Initial threats to annex northern Cyprus have mellowed into «closer integration.» Ecevit yesterday insisted, «On the issue of Cyprus, we have to resist until the end.» He also criticized intellectuals and politicians who have spoken in favor of compromise by Turkey. Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary of Cyprus’s independence and the annual military parade was toned down, in a gesture aimed at helping the reunification talks that are to take place in New York tomorrow and Friday, where President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. There were no overflights by Greek fighter jets and Clerides ordered Cyprus’s new Russian-built Mi-35 attack helicopters not to take part. In Athens, Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis and other officials to discuss Cyprus, Iraq and Greece’s EU presidency next year.