Cyprus raises barrier to EU deal with Turkey to ease migration crisis

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus said on Tuesday it disagreed with the European Union expediting accession talks with Turkey, potentially scuttling an accord between the EU and Ankara on stemming an influx of refugees into Europe.

Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades arrives at an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, as the bloc is looking to Ankara to help it curb the influx of refugees and migrants flowing into Europe, March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told EU leaders last week that Ankara was willing to take back all refugees and migrants who entered Europe from Turkey in future in return for financial aid, faster EU entry talks and quicker visa-free travel for its citizens into the 28-nation bloc.

But Cyprus has been at loggerheads with Turkey since a 1974 Turkish invasion after a brief Greek-inspired coup split the island into two sectors - a Greek Cypriot side in the south recognized internationally as Cyprus, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

Spotting the risk of Cyprus blocking the required consensus of all EU states for any deal with Turkey, EU Council President Donald Tusk visited Nicosia on Tuesday and was to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later in the day in Ankara.

“I conveyed to President Tusk our position that the Republic of Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations as described in the negotiating framework,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters after a meeting with Tusk.

As an EU member, Cyprus has frozen a number of negotiation “chapters” Turkey must traverse to qualify for EU membership because Ankara has failed to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, as it is obliged to do under EU treaties.

Peace talks to resolve Cyprus’s partition are now under way between Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides, but Turkey, which maintains more than 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus, is instrumental to any peace accord.

Attempts to twin that conflict with the migration crisis have been met with incredulity by Greek Cypriots. One newspaper last week likened the move to the “Cheek of a Thousand Pashas”.

Anastasiades said he objected to the long-frozen Cyprus dispute being dragged into the migrant crisis. “It is unwarranted, counter-productive, not to mention unacceptable to shift the burden of responsibility for the migration crisis on my shoulders.”

But Mustafa Akinci, the moderate Turkish Cypriot leader, said Cyprus only stood to benefit from any attempt to bring Turkey closer to the bloc. “The closer Turkey comes to Europe, that has positive repercussions on the Cyprus issue as well,” he told the Politico news site.

EU leaders aim to iron out details on the refugee pact with Turkey by their next scheduled summit on Thursday and Friday.

“The Turkish proposal worked out together with Germany and the Netherlands still needs to be rebalanced so (it is) accepted by all 28 member states and EU institutions,” Tusk said.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich