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Media Watch 2003

12 September 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 12 September 2003 written by a Staff Reporter.
Turkey ‘backs off in customs union deal’

TURKEY has signalled it is putting on hold a controversial customs union with the regime in the occupied north because it could harm Ankara's bid to join the European Union, diplomats in the Turkish capital told Reuters news agency yesterday.

EU candidate Turkey signed a framework accord with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in August, but swiftly drew criticism from capitals of the EU, which is preparing to admit the Republic for membership next year.

The EU wants Denktash to sign up to the United Nations-brokered peace plan which would allow Cyprus to join the wealthy bloc next May reunited after three decades of division.

Only Turkey recognises Denktash's self-styled statelet, while the rest of the international community sees the government in the Republic as the island's sole legitimate authority.

"(Foreign Minister Abdullah) Gul told EU ambassadors in Ankara yesterday the government would not bring the customs deal to parliament for approval," one EU diplomat told Reuters.

Another diplomat said: "The implication seems to be that they are putting the whole project on ice."

The government had been expected to submit the draft to parliament after it reconvenes in October, diplomats said.

Turkish officials and Denktash himself played down Gul's comments, saying that as a framework agreement the deal still lacked the details required for a parliamentary debate.
But the officials also conceded it was unlikely the accord would be fleshed out any time soon. Ankara knows the customs deal, and the wider Cyprus problem, may have a negative impact on the EU's next progress report for Turkey, which is due in November.

The Turkish Cypriots enjoy close economic and political ties with Turkey, and Ankara pumps tens of millions of dollars into the Turkish Cypriot economy every year.

Turkey also has a customs union with the EU, and Brussels had complained it was not consulted before the deal was signed.

"This is the first clear indication that the (Turkish) government is ready to confront Denktash," said the EU diplomat.

The UN and EU blamed Denktash for the failure of the UN plan, which envisaged broad autonomy for the two communities in a loose federation.

Denktash, widely admired in Turkey as a doughty defender of Turkish interests, said this week he was working on an alternative peace plan. He has given no details so far.
The second EU diplomat said Turkey seemed genuinely divided about how to handle the Cyprus problem, with the pro-EU Foreign Ministry opposed to the customs union from the start.

"I think there is a lot of in-fighting in the government machinery," said the diplomat.

Commenting last night on Turkey’s apparent change of heart, Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said: “We considered the agreement illegal from the beginning, and this fact has been confirmed by the international reaction to such an agreement, which was an agreement signed between Turkey and Turkey -- and Turkey is the occupying country in Cyprus.”"