BERLIN (Reuters)–Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would do everything possible to help solve a long dispute over Cyprus by May 1–but the Greek Cypriot government said time was running out.
Cyprus peace talks have been at a standstill for the past 10 months and time is short for negotiations on a complex United Nations blueprint before Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1–either united or divided.
"The Cyprus question must be solved by May 1. We will make the necessary steps in this regard," Erdogan told a breakfast meeting of business leaders and politicians in Berlin.
"There must be goodwill on both sides–if that is not the case–then the problems will not be able to be solved. We will certainly show our goodwill," he said through an interpreter.
A resolution of the Cyprus problem is seen as a precondition for Turkey’s membership of the EU and would boost its chances of starting accession talks in early 2005–prospects being watched closely by Turkey’s financial markets.
Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides–said Nicosia had taken note of Erdogan’s remarks but described them as yet another in a "series of statemen’s."
"There is nothing concrete on the table. We hope Turkish political attitudes will change for negotiations to start as soon as possible," he told Reuters.
Erdogan made his commen’s after US President George W. Bush sent a letter to him and to Greek and Cypriot leaders urging them to resume talks immediately.
Erdogan has said he will discuss Cyprus when he meets Bush in Washington on January 28.
While Erdogan’s remarks underlined Turkey’s commitment to a Cyprus solution–Turkish media have reported that the powerful military fears the government may be giving too much ground in its efforts to reach a settlement.
Senior Turkish government officials and military top brass on Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to a deal–but deferred further action to a meeting of the powerful National Security Council on January 23.
Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iakovou said even if Turkey decided to engage on the basis of the UN plan from January 23–it still left little time ahead for negotiations.
"This will restrict negotiation time to a couple of months unless this is a tactical move by Turkey to push negotiations to the second half of the year and link it directly to progress on its own EU application," Iakovou told Reuters in Nicosia–speaking before Erdogan made his commen’s in Berlin.
Turkish Cypriot parliamentary elections last month ended in a dead heat between parties supporting the UN plan and an outgoing government that rejected it.
The head of a party that backs the UN plan and is charged with forming a government–said on Friday that Ankara had pushed Turkish Cypriot politicians to quickly establish a coalition during their meetings with Turkish officials.
"We’ll do our utmost to form a government by Monday," Mehmet Ali Talat told reporters after returning from Ankara.
Talat’s party is expected to join forces with a Turkish Cypriot party opposed to the peace plan and led by Serdar Denktash–son of veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.
Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 following a brief Greek inspired coup. The UN plan envisages linking Cyprus under a loose federal system with large degrees of power-sharing and some territorial adjustmen’s.