Cyprus remains stumbling block in Turkey's EU ambition: Merkel

Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:03pm EST
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By Andreas Rinke and Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was in favor of reviving Turkey's stalled talks on its relationship with the European Union but a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus remained a stumbling block.

Speaking during a two-day visit to Turkey, Merkel, who favors a "privileged partnership" for Turkey in place of full EU membership, said it would be right to open a new chapter in Ankara's negotiations with Brussels.

But she said failure to agree on the Ankara Protocol, which would extend Turkey's customs agreement with the EU by opening its ports to goods from Cyprus, was hindering Turkey's membership ambitions.

"I said today that we should open a new chapter in the negotiations," Merkel told a news conference in Ankara.

"I must say however, that so long as the question of the Ankara protocol, which hangs closely together with Cyprus, is not solved, we will have problems in opening as many chapters as would be perhaps good and proper," she said.

Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish north since a Greek coup d'etat followed by a Turkish army invasion in 1974. Efforts to reunite the island have repeatedly failed and Turkey is the only nation to recognize the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Turkey began EU entry talks in 2005, a year after Cyprus was admitted, but its bid for membership has been blocked by the intractable dispute, as well as by opposition from core members Germany and France.

"We can sign the Ankara Protocol only if the visa dialogue process with the EU is signed at the same time," Erdogan said at a joint press conference, underlining a long-standing demand that Turkish citizens be allowed visa-free travel in Europe.   Continued...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) attend a joint news conference in Ankara February 25, 2013. REUTERS/Altan Burgucu