EU President Says Turkish Offer on Cyprus Not Enough

HELSINKI/BRUSSELS (Reuters) –EU President Finland said on Friday a Turkish offer to open one port to Cypriot ships did not go far enough and it expected the bloc to approve a partial freeze of accession talks with Ankara next week. "What Turkey has said is not enough…Turkey has not fulfilled its commitmen’s," Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told reporters of a requirement that Turkey extend a customs union with the EU to all members, including Cyprus. Vanhanen said he now expected EU countries to agree at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday to suspend some areas of the entry talks as proposed by the European Commission. "The Commission proposal I believe is quite near the compromise (acceptable to member states)," he said of the EU executive’s proposal for slowing Turkish accession talks by suspending eight of 35 negotiation areas, or chapters. Vanhanen said such an outcome would leave the door open for Turkey to restart full negotiations later and should not mean a delay to its final entry, widely seen as over a decade away. Ankara won renewed backing from Washington for its EU bid as President George W. Bush called Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to reaffirm his support, state Anatolian news agency said. Finland said it was still seeking clarification of the Turkish proposal. Envoys said it had been made orally by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja. The Turkish plan appeared to offer the opening of one port provisionally for a year and to state readiness to open an airport to flights from Cyprus if the EU allowed direct trade with northern Cyprus through a port and an airport. However Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, whose self-declared state is recognized only by Ankara, denied the offer was conditioned on concessions from the EU, calling it a "package to promote cooperation" during a trip to Brussels. EU capitals remained split at talks on Friday on the number of chapters to be suspended and on whether to insist on a formal review of Turkey’s progress on solving the ports dispute before restarting discussions on any frozen chapters. Cypriot Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas told Cyprus state radio that Nicosia would block all EU membership talks with Ankara, as it has done since September, if other members of the bloc let Turkey off the hook because of the offer. "Nicosia will revert to a harder line if some in the European Union attempt to use this to restrict the sanctions which should be imposed on Turkey for non-compliance," he said. Cyprus further blocked an effort to have foreign ministers call next week for an early resumption of UN peace talks on the divided island. Turkey’s supporters, led by Britain, argue the Commission proposals for a partial suspension are too harsh and have seized on Ankara’s latest move to urge the EU to wait before acting. Others want tougher action, and diplomats said four countries called on Friday for a fixed date for a review of Turkey’s efforts to solve the row — something Ankara rejects. At least two others wanted a formal review with no fixed date. Ankara has previously said it will only comply if the EU makes good on a promise to ease the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriot northern Cyprus, which the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia has so far prevented. Cyprus has been split since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 after a brief Greek Cypriot coup backed by Greece. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, in a telephone conversation, assured Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Washington’s support for Turkey’s troubled bid to join the European Union, a Turkish government source said. "The United States has been supporting our efforts to join the EU from the very beginning," the official told AFP. "The conversation today shows that they maintain their position." Washington values Turkey, a mainly Muslim but secular country at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, as an example that Islam and democracy can co-exist. US lobbying on Turkey’s behalf has in the past angered some EU leaders, who accused Washington of meddling in the bloc’s affairs. The official said it was Erdogan who called Bush, days before EU leaders meet next week to decide how to proceed with Turkey’s membership bid mired in a row over Ankara’s refusal to grant trade privileges to EU-member Cyprus under a customs union agreement. In a last-minute bid to avert a possible partial suspension of its accession talks, Ankara offered Thursday to open one sea and one airport to Greek Cypriot use for a one-year period. But it said it expected a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem within that period of time, as well as reciprocal gestures to ease the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the north of the divided island. "We support the work of Turkey to find an acceptable way forward so that the accession process can continue," a US official told a group of reporters here. "Closing the door to Turkey will be a very big strategic mistake. Now is not the time to do this," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We need to help them (Turkey) to stay on track." The Turkish official said Bush and Erdogan also discussed the situation in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Iran’s nuclear program.

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