Only a few days after Turkish President Abdullah Gul called the Greek part of Cyprus “half a country” and said his country will not recognize the upcoming Cypriot rotating European Union Presidency nor deal with it, Turkey has reportedly agreed to give in to United Nations demands to open its ports and airports to Cyprus.
Turkey has been striving to get into the EU for years but among the major obstacles has been its refusal to recognize Cyprus, an EU member, now allow access to Greek Cypriot ships and airplanes – but only if the EU recognizes the Turkish occupation of the northern third of the island that has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 in violation of international law.
“The minute a British Airways, an Air France, a KLM, a Lufthansa plane lands at Ercan airport (in northern Cyprus,) Turkey is ready to open all of her airports, sea ports, and air space to Greek Cypriot planes and vessels,” Turkish EU minister Egemen Bagis told Reuters. Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara, has direct air links only with Turkey. It is also excluded from international sport, finance and trade. The island’s capital city of Nicosia has been divided for 37 years and guarded by UN forces in a buffer zone. “The fact that an Al Italia or an Air France plane is landing at Ercan would not mean that they recognize the TRNC (Northern Cyprus,)” Bagis said in an interview. “This would be like the Taiwanese model – a trade relationship.” Many states, forced by Beijing to choose between China and breakaway Taiwan, choose diplomatic ties with Beijing; but Taiwan retains international contacts on a trading basis. It was the first time Turkey had officially invoked the so-called Taiwanese Model, seeking explicitly to decouple such ties from any suggestion of diplomatic recognition. Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, Turkey has been the only state to recognize the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC.)
It seemed after Gul’s statements that there was less hope for a resolution even though UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said he thought there could be an agreement by January, although he said that last year as well and nothing happened. Gul also had said that the failure to open new chapters in Turkey’s negotiating process was harming EU’s reputation and that it could suffer its biggest loss of credibility in 2012 when Cyprus takes over the rotating EU Presidency in July, 2012 for six months, effectively grinding to a halt any negotiations. “Now this half a country, this incomplete country will take over the EU Presidency,” Gul was quoted as saying by Aksam newspaper. “There will be a half-presidency leading a miserable union. That is exactly the expression I said to EU leaders.”
While the EU has similarly been pushing Turkey to open its ports and airports to Greek Cyprus, Turkey has been pushing back and insisting the EU and UN and rest of the world should recognize its occupation of Northern Cyprus to the anger of Greek Cypriots who said that would be tantamount to recognition of an unlawful state. Bagis said that he believed a simple arrangement could help free up talks over the east Mediterranean island that has brought NATO partners Greece and Turkey to the brink of war on several occasions. That comes also as Turkey is eager to get at natural gas around the island where sites are being explored by the Greek Cypriots. The gas exploration and disputes over sovereign rights, has again raised international concerns.
Greek Cypriots, who represent the whole of Cyprus in the EU but whose authority is effectively confined to its south, fear any recognition of the breakaway state could make partition permanent. Greek and Turkish Cypriots were due to meet a UN special envoy this week for the first time since Ban summoned them to New York early this month to try to speed a deal. Asked if Turkey had a ‘plan B’ if talks to reunite the island failed, Bagis replied: “Turkey has a ‘plan B’, Turkey has a ‘plan C’ a ‘plan D’ and even a ‘plan F’. But let’s keep it to ourselves for now.” The two sides remain far apart as Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias’ pledge to reunify the island have stalled, despite considerable concessions he has offered, including allowing a Turkish Cypriot to rule the island every other term as its President. Turkey also does not want to return properties seized in 1974.
Ankara argued that under the EU’s own treaties, Cyprus, with its unsettled territorial questions should never have been allowed in the EU, let alone with a mandate to represent the whole of the island. But Bagis said that for all Turkey’s problems with EU negotiations, and its recent diplomatic openings to the Arab world, Ankara would stick by its European ambitions. “The EU is still the grandest peace project in the history of mankind,” he said.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters, Famagusta Gazette)
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