Finns in last ditch bid to resolve Cyprus Turkey row

BRUSSELS (Reuters/Reuters) – Finland launches a last-ditch drive this week to resolve a row between Turkey and Cyprus before a December deadline, but is warning it sees no speedy solution to the issue threatening Ankara’s EU entry bid.

were so slim he would not, offered a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough.

But Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said he did not see a quick solution to Turkey opening its ports to ships from Cyprus as required in its EU membership negotiations.

“I have to say I am not very optimistic we could find a solution soon which would open new possibilities and literally open harbours,” he told Finnish public television on Saturday.

Finland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and wants a deal before a European Commission meeting on December 6.

It plans separate meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Greek Cypriot George Lillikas on the sidelines of the gathering of European and Mediterranean ministers in Tampere.

Brussels has said it will recommend consequences if Turkey fails to open its ports in December, which could involve partial suspension of membership talks launched last year and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has previously warned of a “train crash” in Turkey’s accession bid if no deal is reached.

Tuomioja said he hoped there would not now be “a break” that would endanger Turkey’s bid, but added: “It is clear, however, if we make no progress, we cannot go on as if nothing happened.”

The Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus has represented the divided island since it joined the EU in 2004 and now has EU veto powers over its old Turkish foe.

MIDDLE EAST PLAN

Cyprus diplomacy could overshadow the Euro-Mediterranean meeting, although Spain is expected to outline a new Middle East peace initiative with France and Italy at a dinner with Arab and Israeli ministers on Monday.

Set up in 1995, the forum’s past efforts to foster Middle East peace have yielded meagre results, though a cease-fire that took effect on Sunday in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians raised the possibility of some life being breathed into peacemaking in that region.

Lillikas’s announcement he would not go to Tampere came as Greek media reported that Finland had ditched a key Greek Cypriot demand from its mediation plan under Turkish pressure.

Greece warned that dropping the demand for Ankara to cede the abandoned resort of Varosha to U.N. control and for its former Greek Cypriot residents to be allowed back in might derail the Finnish efforts.

Dropping the proposal would put pressure back onto the Greek Cypriots to show flexibility or risk being seen as spoiler of a plan that Finland has kept secret, not circulated in writing.

Ankara has argued that before Turkey opens its ports, the European Union should first lift trade restrictions against a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of Cyprus.

Commenting on Lillikas’s change of heart, Cyprus government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said on Friday: “There is a particular reason,” but he declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan affirmed on Friday Turkey’s support for a settlement benefiting all parties, including Greek Cypriots. “The object here is to achieve a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

Gul told Reuters on Thursday Ankara was hopeful a Cyprus solution could be found but said any move to suspend Turkey’s EU talks would be dangerous and cost the EU a key strategic and economic partner.

Turkey has called the December 6 deadline on Cyprus blackmail but has also made clear it would not walk way from the talks, uncertainty over which has undermined Turkish financial markets.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called for a balanced approach to overcoming difficulties over Turkey’s EU bid and said French President Jacques Chirac shared his view.

Confirmation that the Cypriot foreign minister would attend a regional forum in the Finnish city of Tampere starting on Monday, two days after saying the chances of progress .

were so slim he would not, offered a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough.

But Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said he did not see a quick solution to Turkey opening its ports to ships from Cyprus as required in its EU membership negotiations.

“I have to say I am not very optimistic we could find a solution soon which would open new possibilities and literally open harbours,” he told Finnish public television on Saturday.

Finland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and wants a deal before a European Commission meeting on December 6.

It plans separate meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Greek Cypriot George Lillikas on the sidelines of the gathering of European and Mediterranean ministers in Tampere.

Brussels has said it will recommend consequences if Turkey fails to open its ports in December, which could involve partial suspension of membership talks launched last year and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has previously warned of a “train crash” in Turkey’s accession bid if no deal is reached.

Tuomioja said he hoped there would not now be “a break” that would endanger Turkey’s bid, but added: “It is clear, however, if we make no progress, we cannot go on as if nothing happened.”

The Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus has represented the divided island since it joined the EU in 2004 and now has EU veto powers over its old Turkish foe.

MIDDLE EAST PLAN

Cyprus diplomacy could overshadow the Euro-Mediterranean meeting, although Spain is expected to outline a new Middle East peace initiative with France and Italy at a dinner with Arab and Israeli ministers on Monday.

Set up in 1995, the forum’s past efforts to foster Middle East peace have yielded meagre results, though a cease-fire that took effect on Sunday in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians raised the possibility of some life being breathed into peacemaking in that region.

Lillikas’s announcement he would not go to Tampere came as Greek media reported that Finland had ditched a key Greek Cypriot demand from its mediation plan under Turkish pressure.

Greece warned that dropping the demand for Ankara to cede the abandoned resort of Varosha to U.N. control and for its former Greek Cypriot residents to be allowed back in might derail the Finnish efforts.

Dropping the proposal would put pressure back onto the Greek Cypriots to show flexibility or risk being seen as spoiler of a plan that Finland has kept secret, not circulated in writing.

Ankara has argued that before Turkey opens its ports, the European Union should first lift trade restrictions against a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of Cyprus.

Commenting on Lillikas’s change of heart, Cyprus government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said on Friday: “There is a particular reason,” but he declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan affirmed on Friday Turkey’s support for a settlement benefiting all parties, including Greek Cypriots. “The object here is to achieve a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

Gul told Reuters on Thursday Ankara was hopeful a Cyprus solution could be found but said any move to suspend Turkey’s EU talks would be dangerous and cost the EU a key strategic and economic partner.

Turkey has called the December 6 deadline on Cyprus blackmail but has also made clear it would not walk way from the talks, uncertainty over which has undermined Turkish financial markets.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called for a balanced approach to overcoming difficulties over Turkey’s EU bid and said French President Jacques Chirac shared his view.

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