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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. Turkey is now insisting that the EU fulfills a pledge to end economic sanctions on the Turkish Cypriots and 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.
"I hope that we can solve a difficult problem," Merkel said of Finland's efforts. "It is a necessary condition for progress with the EU negotiations."
Merkel and Erdogan then traveled to Istanbul for a traditional Muslim fast-breaking dinner for Ramadan attended by some 1,500 people, including the leaders of various faiths in Turkey.
Erdogan said in a speech that Europeans should not always dwell on the negative aspects of Turkey's EU membership, including religious and cultural differences, the country's large population and economic difficulties.
"The advantages (of Turkey's membership) should also be discussed... Turkey will be important to the EU in the same way that, as its only Muslim member, Turkey has been important to NATO," Erdogan said.
"Dialogue and cooperation will increase between the East and the West, the Christian and Muslim worlds _ which are being pushed toward a new Cold War," Erdogan said.
Merkel said Germany had a "special interest in getting Turkey closer to the EU."
She also called for intensified intercultural dialogue.
"We have to take the time to listen to and get to know each other better," Merkel said.
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 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.
Earlier, 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.
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 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 : 2021-05-15 23:41 GMT+08:00