Turkey-Greek Cyprus row threatens Kosovo mission, says Olli Rehn

A defense row between Turkey and Greek Cyprus could endanger European security forces »»
A defense row between Turkey and Greek Cyprus could endanger European security forces in Kosovo by preventing closer cooperation between the European Union and NATO missions there, a top EU official said on Thursday.Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn sounded the warning a day after the failure of internationally mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the future of the breakaway Serbian province, whose ethnic Albanian leaders want independence.

The EU is gearing up to take over responsibility for policing in Kosovo from the United Nations and had sought tighter cooperation between its 1,600-strong mission and the 16,000 NATO peacekeepers that will remain there.

NATO member Turkey blocked those plans in protest of a long-standing Greek Cypriot veto of closer defense ties between it and the 27-member bloc, with which Ankara began entry talks in 2005.

“Let’s finally move on that issue. It’s a real European problem. It’s hurting the European Union, its citizens and potentially our soldiers and policemen,” Rehn said.

“If there are representatives here from Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, please take my point and pass it to your capitals,” he said at an event in Helsinki.

NATO and EU officials are braced for possible violence in Kosovo between the ethnic Albanian majority and minority Serbs. The two sides have sought to overcome the Turkish blockade with informal agreements on the ground governing how the two missions should interact in situations such as riots.

Turkey’s stance has also affected cooperation between NATO’s 40,000-strong peace force in Afghanistan and a much smaller EU police mission of around 150 staff.

Turkey wants Brussels to persuade EU member Greek Cyprus to drop its veto over Ankara’s bid to become an associate member of the European Defense Agency (EDA), the body set up to nurture EU-wide defense industry policy, diplomats said.

It also wants to be consulted more on EU security policy, arguing it is already a major participant in EU-led missions -- including Kosovo, with troops in the south of the province.

Turkey’s accession talks have been complicated by the division of Cyprus, partitioned since a Turkish military intervention in 1974 that was triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Last month diplomats said France wants the EU to keep Turkey better informed about its military plans, in a bid to end the dispute blocking cooperation between the EU and NATO. The French proposal would provide Ankara with greater information about EU defense planning without giving it a say in decision-making, diplomats familiar with the initiative said.