Turkey promises changes to Cyprus policy

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey on Wednesday promised to revise nearly 30 years of policy toward Cyprus to adapt to the latest United Nations efforts to reunite the divided island.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has promised to bring a fresh approach to decades of deadlock over the island since it was elected in November–but doubts linger over whether it can bring Turkey’s military-led establishment on board for any change.

A deal to unite Cyprus is crucial to the European Union’s plans to include the island in 2004 and central to Turkey’s own hopes of eventually winning membership of the wealthy bloc.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusuf Buluc said on Wednesday that Ankara was working on a new approach in the light of a draft UN plan to unite Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots–divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974.

"With the presentation of the (UN Secretary General Kofi) Annan plan a new element has been added–aimed at bringing a peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem,” Buluc told reporters at a regular weekly news conference at the ministry.

"There is a need for a policy revision to take into account the necessities of this new element and the needs of that revision are being put in place.”

He gave no details.

The United Nations is pushing for a deal by the end of February on the plan–one of numerous diplomatic bids over the decades to solve an intransigent dispute that adds to tension between NATO allies Turkey and Greece.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup that Ankara saw as a threat to the lives of ethnic Turks on the island. It has since supported a breakaway Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north with cash and around 30,000 troops.

The powerful military say Cyprus–just off Turkey’s southern coast–is of huge strategic importance and newspapers on Tuesday reported tears in the eyes of a Turkish admiral as he briefed parliament on the issue.

The spokesman’said there was no difference in policy between the AKP government and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.

Previous Turkish governmen’s have threatened to annex northern Cyprus if the EU accepts the island without a solution but the AKP has made no such statemen’s and instead vowed to negotiate the UN plan.

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