BRUSSELS (The Guardian)–The president of Cyprus today urged Europe to get tough with Turkey, likening the EU’s concessions to Ankara to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, and playing down expectations of any breakthrough in the quest for a settlement of 35 years of partition in Cyprus.
Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader and Cypriot president, said that more than a year of negotiations with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, were in trouble.
“Unfortunately, my expectations have not been justified,” he said in an interview. “We have differences and divergences, deep, deep differences.”
Christofias’s gloomy remarks ran counter to diplomats’ hopes that the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders represented the best chance for a settlement in a generation.
Both leaders, personal friends who are both on the left, have been conducting negotiations for more than a year. Talat, however, is widely tipped to lose power in presidential elections in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus next April to nationalist hardliners, so the duo may have only months to strike a deal. Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish military invasion in 1974.
Christofias rejected talk of a deadline as artificial and suggested the Turkish side was exploiting Talat’s electoral problems to blackmail him.
If the talks fail, warned Hans Van Den Broek, the former Dutch foreign minister who sits on the Independent Commission on Turkey, “the island will certainly head towards partition. Tensions will rise in the eastern Mediterranean and EU-Turkey tension will deepen.”
With much at stake in the Cyprus talks, Christofias laid a large part of the blame for the stalemate on the Turkish leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We don’t agree on anything with Mr Erdogan,” he said.
Hopes for a solution to the Cyprus problem have been raised by the approach adopted by Greece’s new prime minister, George Papandreou, who visited Turkey shortly after he was elected, where he met Erdogan. Christofias’s negative comments reveal how difficult the task will be.
The fate of the Cyprus settlement talks is crucial to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Swathes of the complex membership negotiations between Ankara and Brussels are frozen because of Greek Cypriot objections.
Christofias warned that any European concessions to Ankara to keep Turkey on a pro-European path could backfire.
“I don’t compare Turkey with Nazi Germany,” he said. “But it is not reasonable to say don’t challenge Turkey because it will get angry. There are rules and unfortunately Turkey does not respect those rules … This reminds me of the situation before the second world war, appeasing Hitler so he doesn’t become more aggressive. The substance of fascism was the substance of fascism. Hitler was Hitler.”