NICOSIA (Reuters) - Greece and Cyprus said on Monday they supported Turkey’s bid to become a full member of the European Union and needed its help to end the island’s decades-old division.
The division of Cyprus has defied mediation for decades, remaining a key obstacle to Turkey joining the EU and a source of tension with Greece, its neighbour and partner in NATO.
“This is an issue which we can either solve and therefore (will) unite us, or keep us divided,” newly elected Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told journalists in Nicosia, Cyprus’s ethnically split capital.
An architect of closer ties with Ankara, Papandreou said Turkey had every right to be a member of the European Union, but needed to meet entry requirements.
Turkey has had a large military presence in northern Cyprus since 1974, when it invaded the north in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. The island is now in the EU represented by Greek Cypriots, but EU membership is suspended in the north, a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara.
Turkey has been urged to open its ports to Cyprus, which it does not recognise, and help resolve the division of the island.
“Turkey has obligations it must comply with or it will not be able to continue on its accession course without obstruction,” said Cypriot President Demetris Christofias.
Turkey began EU entry talks in December 2005 but their pace has been slowed by delays in Turkish reforms and by the Cyprus issue.
“I’ll always be sincere about the problems which separate us and those we need to solve. Among those the biggest one is the continued occupation of Cyprus,” Papandreou said.
Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities launched peace talks in September 2008. They are trying to unite the island under a federal umbrella and any agreement will be put to a referendum.
Editing by Tim Pearce