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EU still split over reply to Turkey on Cyprus
2005-09-16 14:01:08

Friday, Sep 16, 2005 --

By Carsten Lietz and Marcin Grajewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union nations failed again on Friday to agree on a response to Turkey's refusal to recognise EU member Cyprus, a major problem ahead of the launch of membership talks with Ankara on Oct 3.

Envoys to Brussels of the 25 EU states met for about one hour but were unable to approve a new draft declaration on Turkey's stance towards Cyprus, diplomats said.

"The meeting of the ambassadors is over. There has not been any major shift in the countries' positions," one diplomat said.

The tough stance taken by Cyprus, which wants the EU declaration to include deadlines for Ankara to make progress in recognising it, helped prevent an agreement, another diplomat said. Cyprus was backed by Greece and the Czech Republic, another EU diplomat said.

Britain, the current EU president, had proposed that the pace of the accession talks would depend on Turkey implementing "contractual obligations to all member states."

That suggested Turkey would have to implement its EU-wide customs union agreement with Cyprus, something Ankara has not yet done.

But the proposal did not define the contractual obligations, potentially opening the way for disputes on how fast negotiations with Turkey should proceed.

"Failure to implement (Turkey's) obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations," said the British draft, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

CUSTOMS IMPASSE

Turkey refuses to recognise Cyprus's Greek Cypriot government, which represents the whole of the island in the EU, and instead supports a Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north of the Mediterranean island.

Cyprus wants the EU declaration to include deadlines for Ankara to make progress in recognising the Cypriot government -- though this was not a precondition for Turkey to start accession talks.

Cyprus is also pushing Turkey to allow its vessels into Turkish ports. Ankara agreed to do that in July, meeting the last precondition for accession talks, but it has not yet implemented that accord in the case of Cyprus.

The British draft of the EU's "counter-declaration" calls on Turkey to remove "all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including the restrictions on means of transport".

"The EU will monitor this closely and evaluate full implementation in 2006," the text said.

If the EU envoys fail to agree on the counter-declaration early next week, the bloc will probably convene a meeting of foreign ministers on September 26 to thrash out a compromise.

The EU declaration would accompany a document setting out the technical terms for the negotiations with Turkey, which EU members still need to agree by unanimity.

EU-wide opinion polls have shown falling public support for Turkey's bid, despite predictions that negotiations would last at least 10 years.

Turkey says it will recognise Cyprus only after a broad international agreement, possibly sponsored by the United Nations, to end the division of the island.

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