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Greece Slams Turkish President's ‘Provocative Remarks’ on Cyprus

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Cyprus should be a Turkish state.

Erdogan defended his country’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, saying there would be no “Cyprus problem” had Turkish forces gone farther and taken over the entire state.

The remarks angered Greece, sparking fresh tension between the two age-old foes. The government in Athens slammed what it called the “provocative remarks.”

Officials in Athens attribute the outbursts to upcoming local elections in Turkey and efforts by Erdogan to spoil what opinion polls show as growing gains being made by his party’s main opponent in the key city of Istanbul.

There is no doubt, Greek Immigration Minister Dimitris Keridis said, that Erdogan will polarize voters as they head to the elections and that Erdogan is “bound to continue appealing to the hardline nationalist vote to support his key candidates.”

Erdogan’s remark came during an iftar dinner this week with top military commanders. Turkish media quoted him as saying that had Turkish troops pushed south, "there would be no more north and south, and Cyprus would be completely ours.”

The timing of Erdogan's remarks comes as the United Nations is exploring new ways to jump-start peace talks on Cyprus, which after 50 years remains divided between a Turkish-Cypriot north and a Greek-Cypriot south. Since 1974, several efforts by the United Nations and the United States to reunite the island have failed.

However, attempts by Athens and Ankara in recent months to bridge long-standing differences and to ease tensions have given the U.N. new incentive to revisit the peace talks.

Constantinos Filis, director of the Institute of Global Affairs in Athens, said Erdogan’s remarks aim to set his country’s conditions.

“The immediate message he wants to send to the U.N. is that Turkey is a strong player, in control of developments on the ground, and that all efforts should be focused on it if the talks are to restart,” Fillis said.

Turkey has long supported the permanent partition of Cyprus, a solution that the U.N. and the global community have refused on grounds it would legalize the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island.

Whether Turkey’s uncompromising stance will scupper the U.N.’s latest peace efforts remains to be seen.

Greek government officials contacted by VOA say that nonetheless, the latest tiff with Turkey will not spoil plans by the prime minister to meet with Erdogan in high-level talks set to take place in May.