By Daniel Dombey in Newport and Vincent Boland in Ankara
European Union foreign ministers pressed Turkey on Thursday to move towards full diplomatic and commercial relations with Cyprus and remove a stumbling block to Turkey’s EU membership talks.
At a meeting in Newport–Wales–the ministers worked on an EU declaration that would increase pressure on Turkey to establish normal relations with Cyprus but not put in question the planned start of the talks with Ankara on October 3.
Britain–which holds the rotating presidency of the EU–hopes the declaration will defuse the issue of Cyprus–which has overshadowed Turkey’s prospects in recent weeks.
But the UK still faces a race against the clock to win unanimous agreement among the EU’s 25 governmen’s on the goals and principles of the membership negotiations themselves.
"We have not yet had the detailed discussion on the negotiating mandate," said an EU official. "But if the negotiations start–the EU will have real leverage in making sure that Turkey implemen’s its commitmen’s."
France–and Cyprus itself–had previously argued that it was "inconceivable" to begin negotiations while Turkey did not diplomatically recognise Cyprus–the divided island it invaded in 1974.
Cyprus has also complained vociferously that Turkey still bans its ships from docking at Turkish ports–despite Ankara’s customs union with the EU.
Nevertheless–both Paris and Nicosia have taken more conciliatory positions in recent behind-the-scenes talks.
The UK hopes it has found a satisfactory compromise with a call for the EU to review Turkey’s implementation of the customs union next year–and a statement emphasising the need to normalise Turkish-Cypriot relations.
However–Abdullah Gul–Turkey’s foreign minister–adopted a hard line on Thursday–saying the opening of Turkish ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus was not covered by the customs union agreement between Ankara and Brussels as Turkey was not a full member of the EU.
"Expectations from full members and expectations from candidate countries are quite different," he said. "Everybody knows what the customs union means."
At the Newport meeting–the foreign ministers also sought to build support for the EU position to censure Iran at the United Nations Security Council unless Tehran’stopped all suspect nuclear activities.