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Turkish Cypriot Leader: EU Key to Cyprus Settlement

Turkish Cypriot community leader Mehmet Ali Talat says the European Union can and must play a major role in pushing for a settlement to re-unite the Greek and Turkish-controlled sides of Cyprus. Talat spoke with VOA shortly before Turkey unveiled its new plan to help end over three decades of division on the island.

Throughout the Turkish-controlled north of Cyprus there is a sense of despair about the future. Ever since Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly yes and Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly no to the latest United Nations plan to re-unite the island hopes for a settlement seem more elusive than ever.

The Greek Cypriots were permitted to join the European Union in May 2004, a month after they rejected the U.N. plan, leaving the Turkish Cypriots in continued economic and political isolation.

Mehmet Ali Talat is the president of the self-styled republic of northern Cyprus that is only recognized by Turkey. Talat is regarded by the rest of the world as the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. Talat says the European Union is in a key position to encourage the Greek Cypriots to make peace with the Turkish Cypriots.

"The European Union can do a lot of things. First, Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot side is member of the European Union," he said. "Hence, a member of the European Union can be put under pressure by the European Union because of its wrong activities against the Turkish Cypriot community."

Talat says that while the United States has been doing its best to end the isolation of his people, the European Union has done little to push for a solution. It has also failed to fulfill promises to ease trade restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots and to provide them with financial aid.

"Actually the United States is the leading country in the line of helping of the Turkish Cypriot side improve its economy to get rid of isolation and have better image in the international community," he added.

Turkey on Tuesday said it would open its ports and airspace to Greek Cypriot carriers if they were to end restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots. The proposal was welcomed by EU member states and in Washington as well. The United Nations said it was studying the offer. However, Greek President Tasos Papadopoulos rejected it outright. He said it was a ploy by Turkey calculated to delay recognition of the Greek Cypriot administration, which is regarded by the international community as the sole legitimate representative of the island.

The European Union opened membership talks with Ankara last year, and EU officials warn that the continuing deadlock over Cyprus may derail Turkey's membership negotiations with the EU Analysts warn that this in turn may re-ignite tensions between Turkey and Greece and add to instability on the periphery of the Middle East.

Cyprus has remained divided since 1974. That is when Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island after an abortive coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists favoring union with Greece.

Turkey's top western allies, the United States and Britain, are the most active supporters of the country's accession to the European bloc, saying a stable and democratic Turkey is in Western interests. They have been urging the Greek Cypriots to resume U.N.-sponsored peace talks. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on a visit to the island Wednesday, said failure to reach a settlement is bad for Cyprus, bad for the Eastern Mediterranean and bad for the EU.