Turkey Proposes New Cyprus Reunification Plan

ANKARA (AP)–Turkey’s foreign minister Tuesday proposed a new plan to help resolve the Cyprus dispute–offering to open Turkish ports to Cypriot ships and planes–in exchange for the lifting of restrictions on Turkish Cypriots.

At present–northern Cyprus’s government is recognized only by Turkey–which in turn refuses to recognize the Greek-administered government of Cyprus and stations 40,000 troops in the north.

"The current status quo works against the interests of all," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "The time has come to move forward all together–leaving behind restrictions and confrontation."

Gul said the plan had been presented to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Cyprus dispute has threatened to hinder Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union–and Turkey is under heavy pressure to recognize Cyprus–a member of the 25-member bloc.

EU officials have said Turkey risks paralyzing its membership bid if it does not open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes.

Under the plan–there would be "unhindered direct trade between both sides of the island as well as the outside world," Gul said.

The Greek Cypriot side–the internationally recognized government of both sides of the island–would have to agree to Turkish Cypriot participation in international activities–including sports events.

In return–Greek Cypriot air carriers would be permitted to use Turkish air space and land at Turkish airports–while Greek vessels would be able to dock at Turkish ports.

The Turkish plan also foresees the convening of a high level meeting no later than June between the representatives of Turkey–Greece–Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. The meeting would be under UN auspices–Gul said.

Turkey refuses to recognize Cyprus until the island is reunified.

Greek Cypriots have refused to lift trade restrictions–fearing the move could amount to a de-facto recognition of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

"The gist of this proposal is the elimination of all restriction for both sides in Cyprus–providing substantial benefits to all parties," Gul said.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw traveled to the divided island to spur Greek and Turkish Cypriots to work together for a UN-sponsored settlement plan.

In a sign of the intractability of the problem–however–the Greek Cypriot president refused to meet with Straw Tuesday–in protest at his planned meeting with Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek-Cypriot controlled south–the internationally recognized government–and Turkish-occupied north since 1974–when Turkey invaded following an Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece.

A settlement plan brokered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was rejected by Greek Cypriots and approved by Turkish Cypriots in separate referendums in 2004.

The new plan "is not a substitute for a mutually acceptable political solution. Yet it has a strong potential to bring about a process that would facilitate a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus question," Gul said.

"We sincerely hope that Turkey’s package of proposals will be received and examined positively by the relevant parties," Gul said.

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