NICOSIA (Reuters)–Cyprus warned on Friday it would veto Turkey’s European Union accession talks if Ankara did not meet EU obligations to open ports and airports to Cypriot traffic.
Raising the stakes in a standoff that has soured Greek-Turkish relations and fanned decades-old tensions–Cyprus made clear for the first time since Turkey began EU membership talks that it would not hesitate to block Ankara.
Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos told the Greek Ethnos newspaper that a veto was an option–but said it was a last resort. "A veto is more effective when you have convinced the others you have reached the ultimate position you can compromise on–and when they are also convinced the other side behaves unreasonably," he was quoted as telling the newspaper.
Asked if Cyprus would use its veto–he said: "Certainly."
Government spokesman and close aide to Papadopoulos George Lillikas reiterated the president’s statemen’s by saying–"(If) Turkey continues not to implement (EU rules and regulations)… its path towards the European Union will end."
Turkey’s long-delayed EU entry talks were launched last October–but the large Muslim country faces at least a decade of negotiations before it can join the bloc.
Ankara’s talks have been dogged by concerns among some EU member countries over the slow pace of human rights reforms–the impact of admitting a nation of 72 million Muslims and the Cyprus issue.
EU member Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since Turkish troops invaded the island in 1974. Repeated UN efforts to bring the two sides together have failed.
Peace efforts have been in limbo since Greek Cypriots rejected the latest UN peace plan in a 2004 referendum just days before joining the EU. The Turkish Cypriot north–where Turkey keeps about 35,000 troops–voted for the blueprint.
The internationally-recognized–Greek-Cypriot controlled south represents the whole island in Brussels.
As part of extending a customs union agreement to all EU member states–Turkey must open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic.
Brussels expects Ankara to do it this year but Turkey has asked that it be coupled with lifting trade restrictions for Turkish Cypriots.
Last month Turkey proposed reviving peace efforts under UN auspices–suggesting a four-way meeting of officials from Turkey–Greece–and the two Cypriot communities.
"If they want to have the ports and airfields opened they should actually study carefully our recent proposal and then act on it accordingly," said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan.
Lillikas said Ankara wanted to extract concessions for meeting its EU obligations.
"This shows the attitude of Turkey and its political culture–which reaffirms how wise we were to reject the [UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan plan," said Lillikas–who is also Commerce–Industry–and Tourism Minister.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat shrugged off the threat of a veto.
"Good luck [to any veto plan]," Talat said–but he acknowledged a "crisis is imminent."
"The Greek Cypriot side does not really want to engage itself. I don’t see any possible steps for the resumption of talks," he said–warning that lack of progress on unification meant permanent partition was becoming more of a possibility.
Analysts said the Greek Cypriot commen’s should be seen in the context of the Cyprus parliamentary elections in May–where it will be a key issue.
But it could affect soaring Turkish markets that managed to ignore Cyprus in recent months.
"A reappearance of the Cyprus issue might just mark a turning point for the market," said Tim Ash–emerging markets analyst at Bear Stearns International.