Thursday, March 4, 2010

Erdogan Reaches out to Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot Media

Turkey would be willing to reduce its troops on the divided island of Cyprus if a settlement is reached between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Prime Minister said in his first statement to Greek Cypriot journalists.
Turkey is still committed to facilitating a solution between the two sides, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday, speaking to a gathering of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot journalists about the long-standing Cyprus dispute at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul.
"I'm very happy," said Aysu Basri, a journalist who works for Turkish Cypriot paper Yeni Düzen and who attended the meeting. She believes that Erdoğan is showing "sincere behavior" in addressing the Greek Cypriots.
"Erdoğan's statements were not new, but this meeting with Greek Cypriots was important because it means that the Turkish side is having direct contact with the Greek side," said Basri. "It was very exciting because it was the first time the prime minister tried to make a statement to the Greek Cypriots. On the Greek side, there is no direct contact and they get their news from translations. Sometimes those translations can be manipulated."
Cenk Mutluyakalı, editor in chief of Yeni Düzen, feels similarly about Erdoğan's outreach.
"This was a well thought out gesture on the part of Turkey," Mutluyakalı said. "The Greek Cypriot press has been portraying Ankara as the one stalling the peace process. Yet, by talking to the Greek Cypriot press, the prime minister talked about Turkey's vision for a lasting peace on the island. The Greek press is now full of the prime minister's statements about his views on peace."
Stefanos Evripidou, who attended Saturday's meeting, wrote for the Greek Cypriot paper the Cyprus Mail that, "an hour and a half after the meeting began, 30 minutes over schedule, Erdoğan looked visibly more relaxed among his Cypriot audience." He also quoted Erdoğan as saying at the end of the meeting: "We'll do it together, thank you very much."
Clear message
Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Dimitris Christofias have held reunification talks since September 2008 but have agreed on little beyond their mutual will to reach an agreement. An upcoming presidential election in Turkish Cyprus and a recent resolution adopted by the Greek Cypriot parliament refusing any guarantors or rights of intervention by outsidershave been casting shadows on peace talks.
"The clear message was that any deal that Talat and his associates reach will have Turkey's full blessing as long as it is based on political equality," Egemen Bağış, state minister and chief negotiator for EU talks who also attended the meeting, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
A statement from Talat's office welcomed Erdoğan's efforts to reach out to the Greek Cypriot side. "The messages of Erdoğan in his statement at the weekend and especially his effort to convey them to the Greek Cypriot people through Greek Cypriot intellectuals is the most recent and clearest expression of the Turkish side's decisiveness about a settlement," read the statement from the president's office.
According to journalists who were present at the meeting, the prime minister confirmed once again that the number of Turkish troops in Cyprus could be reduced if a settlement is reached - a move that had previously been tied to the U.N. backed "Annan plan." The Annan plan, a proposal to settle the dispute by creating a federal system of governance, was accepted by Turkish Cypriots but failed due to a rejection by Greek Cypriots in a referendum held in 2004.
Bağış made it clear that Turkey is not the only country that has troops on the island. "Other countries should consider withdrawing their troops from the island," he said.
(This article appeared in Hurriyet Daily News on March 2)

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