Turkey's ports move keeps EU hopes alive

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The Independent Online

Turkey seized the initiative in its battle to stave off the collapse of EU membership talks with a surprise offer to start opening ports and possibly airports to traffic from Cyprus.

The surprise move, made days before a crucial meeting destined to freeze almost one-quarter of the Ankara's membership negotiations, seems likely to lead to a split among European heads of government when they meet next week.

Ankara has so far refused to fulfil an obligation to open up ports to Cypriot vessels and aircraft, despite the fact Cyprus joined the EU in 2004. Turkey insists that, in return, the EU must help lift the economic blockade on Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus.

Yesterday's gesture left diplomats confused because the offer was made verbally not in writing.

However it was rejected by Greece and Cyprus and Erkki Tuomioja, foreign minister of Finland which holds the EU presidency, made it clear the plan did not amount to an immediate breakthrough.

"This is not a solution," he said, while adding: "We are taking note of an opening from the Turkish side which is a positive indication." It appears at least one port would be open to Greek Cypriot ships for a year.