NICOSIA (Reuters)–Turkey’s chances of starting EU entry talks would be boosted if there were a deal on Cyprus before the divided island joins the European club next May–Greece’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
George Papandreou–credited with helping improve Greek-Turkish relations in the past three years–said progress on bilateral disputes and the Cyprus issue would be weighed favorably by Brussels when it reviews Turkey’s European Union candidacy in December 2004–with a view to setting a date for entry talks.
"Obviously Turkey will be evaluated on the progress it has made in helping the Cyprus solution and changing in a radical way the relationship between Greece and Turkey," he told a news conference in the capital–Nicosia–on a visit to the island.
"We have a much better relationship–we have a new relationship of dialogue and trust–but we haven’t solved some basic issues in our region."
Cyprus has been partitioned along ethnic lines since Turkish forces invaded the north of the island in 1974–after a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.
The conflict is a bitter source of disagreement between Athens and Ankara–who also have airspace and territorial disputes in the Aegean.
Talks on a UN blueprint seeking to reunite Cyprus as a loose federation with large degrees of power-sharing have been in limbo since March–when negotiations collapsed.
Greek Cypriots–who are the majority–say they are willing to negotiate the plan–but have made clear they are unhappy with some key provisions–which should be redrawn.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has called the plan a crime against humanity. There is no sign of talks resuming soon.
Denktash’s leadership–which is being increasingly criticized in his isolated statelet–will be tested later this year when Turkish Cypriots vote in parliamentary elections.
Papandreou said Greece had paid for its past folly of instigating the coup that preceded the invasion.
"We have gone through the self-criticism for deeds of the past; we have paid a very high price . . . but today we have an independent Cyprus," said Papandreou. "I only wish that the same view prevailed in Turkey. If it did–we would be solving the Cyprus problem."