Erdogan’s initiative

A few weeks after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s initiative was torpedoed by Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to initiate more diplomatic action on Cyprus. This is what seems to be behind his request to meet with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis on the sidelines of the Balkan meeting in Belgrade on April 9. The Turkish premier is obviously trying to put across a positive message that will allow him to achieve rapprochement with the European Union after the negative repercussions in Brussels of Turkey’s negative stance in Copenhagen last December and at The Hague about three weeks ago. It is significant that the Turkish overture has come at a time when Ankara’s relations with Washington are strained by their conflicting political aspirations in northern Iraq. What Erdogan said yesterday at the meeting of his party’s parliamentary team opens a new procedural channel but in no way constitutes a change in policy. This is why his request for a meeting was greeted with some caution in Athens. It should be recalled that in recent months the Greek government invested great hopes in the assurances it had received from the leader of the ruling party, but events have disappointed it. Apart from the need by the new Turkish government to revamp its relations with the European Union, it is obviously deeply concerned about the substance of the matter. A current trend among the Turkish elite is to think that time favors the Greek Cypriots. The elite have also realized that solving the Cyprus issue is a prerequisite for promoting Euro-Turkish relations. The same circles believe that if the issue remains unsolved after May 2004, Turkey’s interests will suffer serious damage. The Republic of Cyprus will accede fully into the EU, which will put matters on a new basis. A solution will then be sought that is in accordance with the acquis communautaire, and will naturally favor the Greek Cypriots. Erdogan may not completely share this view but he is influenced by it. And this is why he is endeavoring to set the negotiating process on track again, in the hope that this time, as prime minister, he will have a better chance of imposing a more flexible line.