EU's Ashton skips Syria meet in Turkey over Cyprus

EU's Ashton skips Syria meet in Turkey over Cyprus

Serkan Demirtaş / Sevil Küçükkoşum ANKARA
EUs Ashton skips Syria meet in Turkey over Cyprus

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) greets visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the second day of his two-day official visit to Iran. Erdoğan voices Turkey’s support for Tehran’s controversial nuclear ambitions after the meeting. AA photo

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is mulling whether to boycott the Friends of Syria meeting on April 1 in Istanbul due to Turkey’s refusal to invite Greek Cyprus to the key meeting.

“Ashton is unlikely to be in Istanbul due to Ankara’s decision,” an EU diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. “Instead, her deputy, Pierre Vimont, will represent the European External Action Service.”

Contacted by the Daily News, Ashton’s office said they were not in a position to confirm that she would be in Istanbul on April 1. According to diplomatic sources, Ashton tried hard to convince Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to secure Greek Cyprus’ participation in the meeting alongside other EU countries, but she could not obtain a positive response in their last phone conversation March 27. The diplomat said talks between Ankara and Brussels that aimed to change the other’s mind were continuing, but there was little room for each side to back down from their positions.

Turkey has not recognized Greek Cyprus since the division of the island in 1974, which caused the formation of the Turkish Cypriot state in the northern part. The failure to reunify the island has produced many diplomatic crises between Ankara and Brussels, especially after Greek Cyprus became a full member of the European Union.

A Turkish diplomat confirmed that Greek Cyprus had not been invited to the meeting and said there was no obligation for Turkey to invite all EU countries. The EU countries discussed the matter at a meeting last week in Brussels where some members suggested downgrading the representation of all member countries at the meeting in a show of solidarity with Greek Cyprus. However, this plan was not endorsed by the majority due to the significance of the Syria meeting. The United Kingdom, France and Denmark, the current European Council president, will send their ministers to Istanbul, the Daily News has learned. In the meantime, Greek Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gregory Delavekouras said yesterday that Greece had decided to participate in the meeting at a reduced diplomatic level as a reaction to Greek Cyprus’ non-inclusion.

Syrian National Council may be ‘a principal representative’

Meanwhile, Turkey aims to raise the status of the Syrian National Council at the Friends of Syria meeting as “a principal representative” of the Syrian people, a Turkish official said, adding that efforts were still under way to reconcile the council and Kurdish groups.

“As the Syrian opposition agreed on a national pact in Istanbul, an important step has been taken in order to recognize the [council] as the principal representative of the people,” a Turkish official told the Daily News yesterday.

Participants at the Friends of Syria group’s meeting will discuss the issue on April 1, while Turkey will work on an agreement toward that goal, the official said.

The council was still holding talks with Kurdish groups in Istanbul in an effort to reconcile differences, he said. At the April 1 meeting, the Friends of Syria group is expected to lend support to U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Annan’s mission while also discussing fresh sanctions against Damascus and ways to deliver humanitarian aid.

Iran and countries which voted against a U.N. General Assembly resolution were not invited to the meeting.

Meanwhile, a visit by the Turkish Land Forces commander to regions bordering Syria was “routine,” Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said yesterday. “We have no intention to threaten Syria. The only thing we want is the fulfillment of the Syrian people’s democratic demands.”

Turkish Ambassador to Syria Ömer Önhon, who was recalled after Turkey “temporarily” suspended the embassy’s operations, was set to meet with President Abdullah Gül late in the afternoon yesterday as the Daily News went to press.