Turkey Rocks Cyprus Peace Process

"IF HE (ERDOGAN) REALLY SAID THAT–I HAVE TO RECALL THE RULE OF THE GAME: EVERY CANDIDATE IS ASSESSED ACCORDING TO (EU) CRITERIA," FILORI TOLD REUTERS.

NICOSIA (Reuters)–The UN’s new Cyprus peace plan was thrown into confusion on Saturday when Turkey’s leader said a reunited island of Greek and Turkish Cypriots should not join the European Union until Turkey was admitted.

In what diplomats saw as either a major policy switch or a hardball negotiating ploy to speed up Turkey’s own EU entry–Tayyip Erdogan’s surprise commen’s struck at the heart of deadlines on the peace plan and on European Union enlargement.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots–as well as their rival backers in Ankara and Athens–have been asked by the United Nations to sign up for the start of peace talks by Monday.

Hopes are also pinned on a deal in time for an EU summit next month where Cyprus–the Greek Cypriot part at the moment — is among 10 states that hope to be asked to join the EU.

"I call on all world leaders for Cyprus and Turkey to be admitted to the European Union simultaneously," Erdogan said on a brief visit to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the north of the divided east Mediterranean island.

Erdogan is the leader of Turkey’s newly elected ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)–although it is his deputy Abdullah Gul who will be prime minister and has been asked to form a government. A conviction for Islamist sedition disqualified Erdogan from November 3 polls the AKP won. Absent from parliament–he cannot be prime minister.

His words dramatically raised the stakes for Turkey at the summit where the most the mainly Muslim nation could expect was a decision on a date to simply start talks about joining the EU.

There appeared no slip of the tongue in Erdogan’s commen’s.

"We say yes to entering together," he said at a later news conference–referring to international treaties which Turkey says prevent Cyprus joining any bodies of which Greece and Turkey are not both already members.

"Now Mr. Erdogan is saying something different which means a radical change in Turkish foreign policy–if he really means it," said Huseyin Alkan–Cyprus correspondent for the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet and the CNN Turk TV channel.

Cyprus’ population of about 750,000 is made up of about 20 percent Turkish Cypriots who control about one-third of the island–its northern part–and more than half of the coastline.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It has kept some 30,000 troops on the island since it invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup backed by Athens.

Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser Yasar Yakis–likely to be Turkey’s next foreign minister–confirmed Turkey and Cyprus entry to the EU were now linked–at least by Ankara.

Yakis said the United Nations peace plan envisages creation of a new Cypriot state–making invalid the years of talks that have taken Greek Cyprus to the brink of membership.

"No negotiations so far were conducted on behalf of this (proposed new) Cyprus state so these (EU) negotiations should be conducted now," Yakis told Reuters.

"We believe completion of these negotiations should coincide to be simultaneous with Turkey’s accession negotiations so that they are completed at the same time and join at the same time."

But Jean-Christophe Filori–enlargement spokesman for the European Commission–rejected the possibility of linkage.

"If he (Erdogan) really said that–I have to recall the rule of the game: every candidate is assessed according to (EU) criteria," Filori told Reuters.

"As soon as one candidate fulfills criteria they can join. There should be no linkage with accession of other candidates."

Erdogan statement was all the more remarkable on a day when the Cyprus peace effort had appeared to be gathering steam.

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