European Union member states again failed to agree on Friday how to respond to Turkey's refusal to recognize Cyprus, clouding Ankara's EU prospects as it prepares to start entry talks next month.
The EU is still divided on how Turkey fits in the bloc
EU diplomats said that a meeting of ambassadors from the European Union's 25 states -- their second this week -- ended without a response, deemed politically important before the accession negotiations begin on October 3.
"The meeting of the ambassadors is over. There has not been any major shift in the countries' positions," one diplomat told Reuters.
The EU's British presidency, which has been trying to resolve the issue for weeks, has conceded that it may have to call a special meeting of EU foreign ministers, possibly on Sept. 26, an agreement cannot be reached soon.
Still hope for a deal
But a presidency spokesman tried to sound upbeat after the ambassadors met.
"It was a good discussion. Considerable progress was made and we hope to reach an agreement soon," he said. "We remain hopeful that we won't have to drag the ministers to Brussels."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been unwilling to recognize the Nikosia government
Turkey drew criticism in July when, while signing a protocol extending a customs accord with the EU to the bloc's 10 newest states -- including Cyprus -- it simultaneously declared this did not amount to a recognition of the Nicosia government.
The EU ministers are seeking agreement on a "counter-declaration," but differences over how strongly it should press Ankara to recognize the island member state have so far prevented an accord.
Cyprus, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, has struggled to emerge from its three-decade-long division into predominantly Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot sectors.
The island has been split since 1974 when the Turkish military occupied the northern third in response to a Greek-inspired coup. Turkey supports the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north of the Mediterranean island, while Cyprus's Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island in the EU.
British-French agreement fails
Earlier this week, Britain and France sought support for a compromise stating that Turkey should recognize Cyprus before joining, but that failed to win enough backing when the ambassadors first met on Wednesday.
The latest draft for the Friday meeting, seen by AFP, contained a paragraph proposing that the EU tell Ankara that "prior recognition of all member states is a necessary component of accession."
Without providing additional details, an EU diplomat said that Cyprus, its closest ally Greece as well as the Czech Republic had refused to accept the wording.
Cyprus previously stated it wanted the EU to create deadlines for Turkey to fulfill in its process of recognizing the Mediterranean island.
Cyprus wants access to Turkish ports and airports
Cyprus wants access to Turkish ports
The draft also warned that failure by Turkey to fully implement the Ankara accord -- notably by allowing Cypriot ships and planes to use its ports and airports -- will slow down the pace of membership talks.
"Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations," the draft said.
The EU diplomat said that this warning "was acceptable to all member states."
While the EU debates what position to take, Ankara has grown increasingly impatient, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing the bloc of "rude" diplomatic conduct for placing new conditions on its bid to become a member.
Turkey said it would recognize Cyprus only after a broad international agreement, possibly sponsored by the United Nations, to end the division of the island.
Ankara argues that although it occupied the northern part of the island in 1974 to protect the Turkish population following a pro-Greek coup, it is not responsible for the continuing division of Cyprus.