EU-candidate Turkey will freeze relations with the European Union if the Republic of Cyprus is given the EU presidency in 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Be?ir Atalay was quoted as saying by the Turkish press.
"If the peace negotiations there [Cyprus] are not conclusive, and the EU gives its rotating presidency to Greek Cyprus, the real crisis will be between Turkey and the EU," the daily Zaman quoted Atalay at the end of a trip to northern part of the island, which is occupied by Turkey.
"Because we will freeze our relations with the EU. We have made this announcement, as a government we have made this decision. Our relations with the EU will come to a sudden halt."
Cyprus will hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of 2012. Up to now, Turkey had said it could freeze ties with the Cyprus EU Presidency, if the Republic of Cyprus, which is not recognized by Ankara (see 'Background'), would take on the EU's helm without a solution to the island's division.
Turkey also said it hoped that terms for the reunification of Cyprus can be agreed by the end of the year so that a referendum can take place in early 2012.
However, the climate for any such development appears to have worsened, with Ankara threatening to send military ships to prevent Cyprus from conducting oil and gas exploration in areas of its continental shelf, also claimed by the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Turkish Foreign minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, in an interview with CNN Türk on Sunday, said "Greek Cyprus" aimed to sabotage the reunification talks by going ahead with oil drilling. Davuto?lu said he had expressed the same concern to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy to Cyprus, Alexander Downer, on the phone and that he will also discuss this issue with Ban during his visit to New York to attend UN meetings next week.
Davuto?lu also hinted that Nicosia might wait for the peace talks to come to an end and then exploit the natural resources with Turkish Cypriots.
He said if Greek Cypriots say they want to do whatever they want in the region, then this situation is rapidly going into the direction of having two states on the Cyprus island, instead of reunification.
The division of Cyprus represents one of the most difficult issues affecting EU-Turkey relations, with the future of Turkey's accession talks hinging on the successful resolution of the problem.
Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974.
Hopes were raised in 1992 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum a UN-sponsored unity plan known as the Annan Plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution to the Cyprus problem. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled 'Republic of Cyprus' became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's ten new member states. This group includes the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised Northern part of the island.
So far, only one accession chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus.
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