Britain and France have agreed that Turkey must recognize Cyprus before joining the European Union, as a possible compromise to clear the way for accession talks next month, according to diplomatic sources.
The Nikosia government is still seeking recognition from Ankara
"A compromise has been found between the British and the French, but the issue is not completely resolved for other member states, including Cyprus," the diplomat said on Monday.
Britain holds the EU's rotating presidency, while France has been a key country seeking firmer guarantees from Ankara on the Cyprus issue.
Turkey is scheduled to begin accession talks on October 3, but questions have been raised about that date due to divisions among EU states over its continued refusal to recognize the Nicosia government.
A matter of urgency
Britain has been trying to reach consensus among the bloc's 25 states on how to react to Ankara's declaration on July 29 that a customs accord it signed that day did not mean it endorsed the Mediterranean island EU member.
The deal between London and Paris would involve Turkey recognizing all member states as soon as possible, and in any case before joining itself.
"We hope to be able to table a text" as early as Wednesday's meeting of EU ambassadors, a British source told AFP. The source declined to discuss its contents, but recalled Britain's position, saying: "Turkey we see as important for the EU and we want to see negotiations started on October 3."
Britain is striving for consensus before introducing a text for the ambassadors to examine "so we don't have to bang heads at the table," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
No reason for "special agreement"
Cyprus's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government confirmed it had been briefed by French diplomats about the compromise but had yet to decide whether the concessions went far enough.
"We were immediately briefed by the French government on the points France insisted on," government spokesman Kypros Chrysostimides told reporters. "Whether these points will be enough or not is an issue which will be examined."
Chrysostimides said his government's demand to be recognized by Turkey just like the other 24 EU member governments was not a matter that should be thrashed out by Britain and France alone.
"There is no reason whatsoever for a special agreement, as negotiations remain in the framework of the 25," he said, nonetheless adding that there was "nothing to imply" Cyprus was being deliberately sidelined.
Cyprus, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, has yet to emerge from its long-standing 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.
On Friday, Greece warned Britain to remain "impartial" and suggested that London was going soft on Turkey and its refusal to recognize Cyprus.
"The success of each EU presidency relies on the principle that impartiality is upheld," a Greek foreign ministry statement said. "It's clear that no presidency should exploit its position to advocate politics driven by national interests."
Britain, Germany and the United States are strong supporters of Muslim Turkey's long bid to join the bloc, although the German conservative opposition, which is likely to win elections this weekend, is against it.
Even if accession talks do go ahead, Turkey's membership is not guaranteed and it would be unlikely to join for at least a decade.