NEWS

Erdogan toes official line on Cyprus

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry moved quickly yesterday to bring into line the leader of the party which won national elections on Sunday after he made a remark that seemed to signal a break in the Cyprus impasse that has bedevilled Greek and Turkish relations for decades. Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself backed away from the comment he made on Greece’s NET state television on Monday that he favored resolution of the Cyprus problem «on the basis of the Belgian model.» This comment had been welcomed by officials in Athens. But Erdogan was visited by Foreign Ministry officials yesterday who briefed him on Cyprus, Iraq and other issues. «We do not want to mimic the Belgian model for the Cyprus issue but we are inspired by this,» he later told Turkey’s NTV television. «We are talking about two equal, sovereign states. There are two peoples and there must be some compromise.» The country’s outgoing foreign minister, Sukru Sina Gurel, charged that Erdogan had displayed «ignorance» of the issue. The Turkish daily Cumhurriyet spoke of «Erdogan’s first blunder.» Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with President Jacques Chirac in Paris yesterday to argue that the EU must abide by the decision it took in 1999 that Cyprus’s accession will not be hindered by the lack of a solution to its problem. «We must do all possible within the next few weeks, before the Copenhagen summit in December, to come to a political solution,» Chirac’s spokeswoman Catherine Collona quoted him saying. Simitis, who is to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tomorrow, said Chirac agreed completely that accession agreements could be signed with the candidate countries on April 16. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is drafting a proposal for a solution to the Cyprus issue. In addition to Chirac’s call, US President George W. Bush and British PM Tony Blair have written to Annan urging him to present his plan soon. Athens and Nicosia say they will not accept «just any solution» in exchange for Cyprus’s EU entry. Erdogan’s deputy, Yasar Yakis, who is tipped as a likely foreign minister in the new government of the Justice and Development Party (AK), also indicated that there would be no break with Turkey’s policy of demanding recognition for the breakaway state in northern Cyprus. «We have a plan which is… inspired by the Belgian and Swiss models,» he said. «But they cannot be totally copied because there had never been two separate states in Belgium which then came together into one state… We are saying that there are two states in Cyprus at the moment and they will form a new confederation by coming together.» Indicative of the rift between the new ruling party and the Foreign Ministry was the statement by ministry spokesman Yusuf Buluc. «The Justice and Development Party will itself set its foreign policy priorities,» he told a news conference. «But it is natural to expect a continuation of state policy.» He said Erdogan had spoken only in the capacity of a party leader and that Turkey would continue to support the proposals put forward by Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Two senior Greek diplomats were in Ankara yesterday to prepare Erdogan’s Athens visit. He told EU envoys this would be on November 18.