Erdoğan: Turkey could pull troops from Cyprus in deal

March 03, 2010, Wednesday/ 16:57:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES
Turkey could withdraw its troops in Cyprus if there is a settlement on the divided island, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, asserting that Ankara is ready to do its share for an end to the island’s decades-old division.

Erdoğan’s remarks came in a rare interview with three Greek Cypriot newspapers, published on Tuesday. “Our goal is to achieve a lasting comprehensive settlement to the problem in Cyprus. We are ready to do our share to achieve that goal, and no one should or could doubt Turkey’s sincerity,” he was quoted as saying. Erdoğan spoke to a group of Turkish and Greek Cypriot journalists at the weekend, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Turkey sent its troops to Cyprus in 1974 following a Greek-inspired coup to unite the island with Greece. Since then, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived in segregated parts of the Mediterranean island. The conflict hampers Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union, where Greek Cypriots, internationally recognized as representing Cyprus, have veto powers over Ankara’s admission.

Turkey, which keeps about 30,000 troops in Cyprus, would consider a troop withdrawal if there was a deal but would not respond to calls for an immediate pullout, Erdoğan said. “Over a period of time, those troops can be withdrawn,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying.

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides started peace talks in September 2008, but progress has been slow. Prospects for an immediate breakthrough are hampered by Turkish Cypriot leadership elections in April and simmering dissent within the Greek Cypriot community on power-sharing proposals made by its leadership at the talks.

Elections won’t change Turkish stance

The upcoming presidential election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) sparked a controversy in Turkey when Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat went on the record as saying that his possible defeat in the April polls would mean the collapse of the policy pursued by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government. Asked whether his possible defeat in April 18 elections would also mean a defeat for the Turkish government’s Cyprus policy, Talat said in an interview published on Monday that it indirectly would mean so.

Talat is challenged by Derviş Eroğlu, the incumbent prime minister who is critical of the ongoing reunification talks conducted by Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias. In a statement released late on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Özügergin said the Turkish government continues to support the constructive stance of the Turkish Cypriot leadership in the ongoing reunification talks.

But he said Turkey was neutral with respect to the upcoming presidential election. “There is a flawlessly functioning democracy in the KKTC. As always, Turkey will maintain its neutrality in the April 18 presidential election. Regardless of who is elected, in a reflection of the will of the Turkish Cypriot community, our support for a solution in Cyprus will continue,” Özügergin said.

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