Turkey Would Open Airports, Airspace To Cyprus

November 28, 2011

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Turkey offered to bow to EU demands and open its airports, airspace and ports to Cyprus under what it called a "Taiwanese-style" diplomatic arrangement to help drive Cypriot reunification talks resuming on Monday under UN pressure for a breakthrough.

The European Union demands Turkey end an embargo on Greek Cypriot traffic that damages Nicosia's economy. Turkey for its part says the EU should ease isolation of breakaway Turkish northern Cyprus, something Greek Cypriots reject as implicit recognition of a renegade state.

Turkish EU minister Egemen Bagis told reporters he believed a simple arrangement could help free up talks over the east Mediterranean island that has brought NATO partners Greece and Turkey to the brink of war on several occasions.

Exploration for natural gas around the island, and disputes over sovereign rights, has again raised international concerns.

"The minute a British Airways, an Air France, a KLM, a Lufthansa plane lands at Ercan airport (in northern Cyprus), Turkey is ready to open all of her airports, sea ports and air space to Greek Cypriot planes and vessels," Bagis said.

Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has direct air links only with Turkey. It is also excluded from international sport, finance and trade.

Greek Cypriots, who represent the whole of Cyprus in the EU but whose authority is effectively confined to its south, fear any recognition of the breakaway state could make partition permanent.

"The fact that an Alitalia or an Air France plane is landing at Ercan would not mean that they recognise the TRNC (northern Cyprus)," Bagis said in an interview late on Sunday. "This would be like the Taiwanese model - a trade relationship."

Many states, forced by Beijing to choose between China and breakaway Taiwan, choose diplomatic ties with the former; but Taiwan retains international contacts on a trading basis.

It was the first time Turkey had officially invoked the "Taiwanese model", seeking explicitly to decouple such ties from any suggestion of diplomatic recognition.

PLAN 'B' & PLAN 'C'

Turkey's ban on Cypriot traffic has been a significant, though by no means the only, hindrance to United Nations-sponsored talks to reunite the island.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots were due to meet a UN special envoy on Monday for the first time since Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summoned them to New York early this month to try to speed a deal.

The talks take place at an airport abandoned in a 'no-man's land' since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 and seized the northern third of the island in response to a coup by militant Greek Cypriots seeking union, or Enosis, with Greece.

Asked if Turkey had a 'plan B' if talks to reunite the island failed, Bagis replied: "Turkey has a 'plan B', Turkey has a 'plan C' a 'plan D' and even a 'plan F'. But let's keep it to ourselves for now."

An arrangement over the travel restrictions could help move talks along, but other important differences remain.

(Reuters)