Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

EU tries to defuse tension over Turkish Union entry


EU foreign ministers met yesterday with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in an effort to defuse tensions amid moves by Cyprus and Greece to block Ankara's EU membership talks.

Ties between Turkey and Europe were also strained by the French parliament's decision to approve legislation that would make it a crime to deny that the World War I-era killings of Armenians in Turkey constituted genocide.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is due to give a report on Nov. 8 on Turkey's progress in implementing reforms since it started membership talks a year ago, and was expected to chide Ankara for its refusal to open ports to Cypriot ships and planes.

Mind cyprus

Cyprus and Greece have warned they will block entry talks if Turkey does not extend its EU customs agreement to shipments from EU-member Cyprus.

Last week, Greece and Cyprus forced the EU to postpone the opening of a new chapter of Turkey's EU membership talks -- on industrial policy -- until a solution to the customs dispute was found.

Turkey has refused to open its ports to Greek Cypriots until an international embargo against Turkish-Cypriots in the north of the island is lifted.

Turkey's "open-ended" membership negotiations, launched on Oct. 3 last year, already had been progressing slowly.

Rehn, who was leading yesterday's talks, appealed to all parties to do their utmost to help resolve the standoff.

"I trust that both communities on the island, all the parties and especially all the EU member states will fully support [efforts] to unblock the current stalemate on Cyprus," Rehn said on Friday.

The division of Cyprus has become the key irritant in Turkey-EU relations since the southern Greek Cypriot half of the divided island joined the EU in 2004.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded after an attempted coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and backs the breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic in the north.

In 2004, Greek Cypriots voted against a UN-backed plan aimed at reuniting the country on the eve of its entry into the EU. Turkish Cypriots approved the plan in a separate referendum.

The genocide issue

Yesterday's talks were also aimed at soothing Turkey after French lawmakers approved legislation that would criminalize the denial of the World War I killings of Armenians in Turkey as constituting genocide.

The legislation still needs approval from the French Senate and president before it becomes law. Top EU officials were quick to condemn the French legislators.

Some officials were saying that France's moves regarding the genocide issue would increase tensions with Ankara at a time when the European bloc is trying to encourage Turkey to push through political and judicial reforms.

The EU said the French bill also would damage reconciliation attempts under way between Turkey and Armenia.

Turkey has acknowledged that great numbers of Armenians were killed in fighting and mass expulsions, but does not accept the label of genocide.

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