OPINION

Turkish threats

The remarks by Turkey’s former Foreign Minister Mumtaz Soysal over the prospect of a Greek-Turkish conflict are, essentially, a sign that Ankara’s policy on the Cyprus issue has been deadlocked. His remarks, which were made in a closed-door meeting of experts in Istanbul, hold particular weight as the professor and decades-old adviser to Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is seen as one of the main vehicles of the post-Kemal regime’s traditional strategic views on security issues. The prospect of Cyprus’s accession to the European Union has shaken the diplomatic equilibrium. For the first time since 1974, the Turkish elite has been caught up in a painful paradox which is being exacerbated by a context of political volatility. On one hand, Ankara holds that accepting Cyprus’s EU membership hands down would tarnish its image, especially if the EU refuses to set a date for the launch of accession talks at the coming Copenhagen summit – a very likely prospect indeed. On the other hand, Ankara knows that implementing its threat to annex the occupied section of northern Cyprus would entail a heavy price. Such an act would never be recognized by the international community and would inevitably wreck not only Greek-Turkish relations but also EU-Turkish ones. The Greek government is prepared for the prospect of an ill-considered, opportunistic act by Turkey. In a desperate attempt to cancel the Mediterranean island’s accession, the Turkish elite may decide to create tension or even cause a hot episode. Athens should be careful not to respond to such provocations and always do its best to uphold the climate of detente in bilateral ties. Athens’s support of Turkey’s demand for a date for EU talks is part of this policy. In effect, Greece’s response to Soysal’s threats was a temperate one. Realizing the deadlock, the pro-European wing in Ankara is beginning to push for a more flexible stance on the Cyprus talks. Turkey’s reformists hold that Ankara’s insistence on a two-state solution may well torpedo bicommunal negotiations but will do nothing to stop Cyprus’s EU membership. Furthermore, they warn that should the island enter the EU without a prior settlement of the political dispute Turkey will, for the first time since 1974, find itself in a subordinate diplomatic position. The post-Kemal regime has so far rejected a federal solution, fearing that if Cyprus joins the process of European integration, Ankara will lose control over the Turkish Cypriots.