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German leader presses Turkey over Cyprus

German leader presses Turkey over Cyprus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday repeated the European Union's demand that Ankara open its ports and airports to Cyprus, but Turkey's premier said the country would not take such a step until the isolation of Turkish Cypriots ends.
"We will never look positively at opening our ports and airports unless the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots is lifted," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Merkel. "First of all, asking Turkey to do this is not a fair demand."
Merkel arrived in Ankara on Thursday for a two-day visit to drive home the EU's demand that Ankara lift its trade embargo against Cyprus.
"There is the Ankara protocol and, in our view, this protocol must be implemented," Merkel said in reference to an agreement to extend a customs union to new EU members. "I believe that it is understandable and obvious that, when member states in the European Union want to cooperate with each other, free trade relations and access to ports and airports should be part of that."
Senior EU officials hinted in July that entry talks with Turkey are likely to stall over Ankara's failure to recognize Cyprus or to allow in its ships and airplanes.
Two years ago, Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of a U.N. plan to reunify the island _ which Greek Cypriots rejected _ and the Turkish government is reluctant to take any steps that may be perceived as making too many concessions to Greek Cypriots.
Finland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, is working on a compromise solution, but details of the proposal have not been made public.
"We now have a Finnish proposal on the table and I have heard with interest that this has been welcomed by Turkey and I hope that we can solve a difficult problem," Merkel said. "It is a problem we must address. ... It is a necessary condition for progress with the EU negotiations."
After arriving in Ankara, Merkel paid her respects at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. She was scheduled to dine with Erdogan in Istanbul as he breaks the Ramadan fast in the evening.
Merkel said the two leaders still had to discuss in detail Turkey's relations with the EU and the situation regarding Cyprus as well as reform efforts in Turkey. They also were to discuss Lebanon, where both countries have contributed to the U.N. peacekeeping force.
"The EU's membership negotiations with Turkey are being conducted fairly and are open in terms of results," Merkel was quoted as telling Germany's Bild daily. "For us, it is important that Turkey keep to its obligations and fulfill completely the membership criteria."
Merkel has said that resolving the Cyprus dispute is key to Turkey's relations with the EU.
Cyprus _ divided since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 after a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece _ joined the EU in 2004, along with nine other nations.
Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and backs the breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic in the north of the island.
Merkel was likely to raise the question of the Greek Orthodox theological seminary on the island of Halki, German officials briefing reporters in Berlin said on condition of anonymity.
The government closed the seminary to new students in 1971 and the EU has pressed for it to reopen.
Merkel meets Friday with Muslim and Christian religious leaders, including Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's more than 200 million Orthodox Christians.
Merkel has expressed skepticism about Turkey's chances for EU membership, and during last year's election campaign she said she favored a "privileged partnership" short of membership. She leads a coalition government with the Social Democrats, however, who favor EU membership for Turkey.


Updated : 2020-12-02 03:01 GMT+08:00