ANKARA (Reuters)–NATO partner Turkey on Wednesday sought to link its stance on a US-led attack on Iraq with Washington’s support for the Turkish side in slow-moving UN-backed talks to unite the divided island of Cyprus.
Washington has signaled concerns over its close ally Turkey’s delay in responding to requests to launch a northern front into Iraq by allowing US forces to use Turkish bases and enter Iraq across the Turkish border.
A secondary front from Turkey could prove key to shortening any war by relieving a main invasion into Iraq’s south.
"Our response to Iraq developmen’s are tied to Turkey’s national interests. On the other hand we have always explained that we do not wish to be faced with unexpected consequences on the Cyprus issue,” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusuf Buluc at a weekly news conference.
"Therefore it is important and natural that we ensure US support–and so there is such a connection.”
Buluc’s remarks appeared to contradict those of Washington’s special envoy to Cyprus–Thomas Weston–who on Wednesday dismissed fears the Iraq crisis might harm the Cyprus peace drive by allowing Turkey to use its role as a pivotal US ally in the region to frustrate a deal.
"These are very separate issues and have to be addressed on their own merits. That is the approach we are taking to them and I think that is the approach that Turkey will have to take to them as well,” Weston told Reuters in a telephone interview.
But Buluc indicated Turkey expects the United States to use its weight on the United Nations Security Council to help influence the outcome of the Cyprus peace process.
"The United States is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Permanent members have a special place and weight in decisions the council has taken or will take.”
The UN–backed by global diplomatic pressure–is pushing for a deal on the UN plan by the end of February to end Cyprus’ division before the island joins the EU in 2004.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash–who is meeting several times a week with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides to hammer out a deal before the UN’s February 28 deadline–said on Wednesday the Greek Cypriot side has rejected everything in a set of changes Denktash proposed.
Denktash says the plan as it stands is unworkable and likely to spark violence because of the population and property exchanges it proposes between the two sides of the island.
"We ought to think about whether we can accept the plan as it is without any changes. Everyone needs to think about it… Any modification to the plan we proposed was rejected,” he told reporters after meeting Clerides.
Buluc said the Greek Cypriot response to proposed revisions was impeding progress on a deal by the end of the month.
"The indispensable essentials that (Denktash) seeks to insert into the negotiating package have so far been met with objections and resistance by the Greek Cypriot side. This is not exactly a very promising prospect,” he said.
The UN has warned there is little room for major changes to the plan and the EU has said it would admit Cyprus with or without a settlement in 2004–which could cement the partition.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded to thwart a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece. The division has been a source of friction between NATO allies and neighbors Greece and Turkey.
Only Turkey recognizes Denktash’s administration and keeps some 30,000 troops in the island’s Turkish Cypriot north.
The newly elected Turkish government is pushing for a settlement–seeing resolution of the island’s division as increasing Turkey’s own chances of entering the EU.
But some parts of the Turkish establishment–especially members of the powerful military–believe Annan’s plan could damage Turkey’s interests in the east Mediterranean.