Greek Cypriots will no longer require visas to visit Turkey under an EU-Turkey agreement on visa liberalisation but this does not amount to Turkish recognition of the Greek Cypriot administration, a Turkish official said on Tuesday.
Turkey's cabinet has approved waiving visas for EU citizens once Europe relaxes its own visa requirements for Turks, according to a decision published in Turkey's Official Gazette.
The move is one of the 72 criteria required by Brussels for Turkey to win visa liberalisation. The European Union executive is expected on Wednesday to propose going ahead with the deal to try to ensure Turkey's continued cooperation in a wider agreement aimed at stemming the flow of refugees into Europe.
Turkey and the EU approved the deal in March which - in addition to visa-free travel for Turkish citizens - promises progress in the country's EU membership talks and financial aid to help country take care of the record number of refugees it currently hosts.
One of the biggest obstacles in Turkey's relations with the EU is the divided island of Cyprus, which has been controlled by two separate administrations since 1974 - the south being governed by the Greek Cypriot administration and the north being governed by the Turkish Cypriots.
The Cyprus issue has long interfered with Turkey joining the EU, since the Greek Cypriots have veto rights over whether Turkey is accepted as a member state. The last major effort to break the deadlock and settle the Cyprus dispute was the Annan Plan, the UN proposal for the federation and consequent accession of a united Cyprus to the EU in 2004 initiated by then Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The Turkish Cypriots approved the plan, while the Greek Cypriots rejected it overwhelmingly and entered the EU alone. As a result the Greek Cypriot south represents the whole island in the EU, a situation which has since been protested by Turkey.
The Turkish official confirmed Ankara's relaxation of visa requirements for EU citizens would also apply to Greek Cypriots.
"This doesn't mean the recognition of Cyprus. If the EU abolishes visas for Turkish citizens, then we will also abolish visas for the remaining EU countries," the official said.
"Right now, Greek Cypriots can already travel to Turkey, but we are issuing their visa on a separate paper. With this new arrangement they won't need a visa."
The EU depends on Ankara's cooperation to maintain the March agreement that has helped stem the flow of refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey, with more than a million people reaching Greece and Italy last year.
Liberalising visa rules for Turkey, a Muslim majority country of 79 million people, is a contentious issue among EU states. But Brussels is pressing ahead so it can keep the refugee accord in place, as Europe struggles with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.