Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades has said that Turkey must open its airports and ports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes if it wants to join the European Union - a standoff that is hampering efforts to seal an EU-Turkey refugee agreement.
As part of a deal aimed at getting Turkey to ease the bloc’s refugee crisis by taking back tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, the EU is offering to speed up membership talks with Ankara.
But the Greek Cypriot administration, which is not recognised by Turkey, insists that Turkey must extend an EU-wide customs agreement to remove its embargoes on southern Cyprus.
However, the Greek Cypriot administration is recognised by the international community besides Turkey as the sole legitimate authority in the eastern Mediterranean island.
Prior to the Greek Cypriot administration’s accession, Turkish Cypriots had their hopes of being included in a reunited Cyprus dashed when the Greek Cypriot side unilaterally voted against reunification in a UN-endorsed referendum.
— Nicos Anastasiades (@AnastasiadesCY) March 17, 2016
As an EU member, the Greek Cypriot administration maintains the right to veto Turkey’s accession to the bloc as well as any deal agreed between Brussels and Ankara.
"Turkey has to open its harbours and airports (to Greek Cypriot traffic) and normalise its relations with Cyprus, something that it doesn't do," Anastasiades told Euronews in an interview.
Asked if he would veto any deal which did not take Greek Cypriot concerns into account, Anastasiades said: "Of course...As long as Turkey doesn't implement its obligations, we don't have any other choice."
Cyprus has been divided between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots since Turkey militarily intervened to secure the north in July 1974 in response to a Greek-orchestrated coup designed to unite the island with Greece.
Turkey, a guarantor of peace in Cyprus in accordance with agreements signed with Greece and Britain in 1960, has maintained a military presence on the island ever since its intervention.
But recent peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots continue to progress steadily towards a possible re-run of 2004’s referendum to reunite the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
In the event of a peace deal, Turkey could withdraw its troops from the island and have its pathway to EU accession opened.
‘Still a lot to do’
The EU warned on Wednesday that a deal with Turkey to curb the refugee influx to Europe hinges on Ankara acting to support peace talks in Cyprus.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chairs an EU summit on Thursday and Friday, said much remained to be done to reach a deal with Turkey.
"Work is progressing but there is still a lot to do," he said in a letter to EU leaders. The refugee deal needed to be "an opportunity (for Turkey) to support the settlement talks in Cyprus. Only if this is possible can we move forward here."
EU officials offered last-minute tweaks to the draft pact with Turkey in an effort to make it legally watertight, but a standoff with the Greek Cypriot administration could yet scupper any deal this week.
Under a tentative agreement reached last week, Ankara would take back all refugees who enter the EU from its shores or are detained in its territorial waters, in return for more money, faster visa-free travel for Turks and a speeding up of its slow-moving EU membership negotiations.
A new draft agreement circulated by Tusk to EU states on Wednesday and seen by Reuters gave little concrete away to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is due to finalise the deal with EU leaders at a breakfast in Brussels on Friday.
It states: "The EU, together with Turkey, will prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible." That final phrase "as soon as possible" did not appear in the shorter draft Davutoglu endorsed last week. Nor did the phrase "together with Turkey".
The Greek Cypriot administration has been insisting that any wording must reflect the fact that Turkey has not yet met EU conditions for opening such new chapters. There was no immediate comment on the draft from Ankara or Nicosia.