Turkish premier to discuss Cyprus with Britain's Straw

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Turkey's Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday to discuss renewed Turkish initiatives to resolve the Cyprus dispute, which threatens to hinder Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Straw met with Erdogan at Ankara's Esenboga airport before the Turkish premier flew to Davos, Switzerland to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Straw was also scheduled meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Turkey on Tuesday proposed to open its ports to Cypriot vessels in exchange for the lifting of economic restrictions on Turkish Cyprus. The proposal was dismissed by Greek Cypriot leaders even before it was made public Tuesday.

Straw urged both Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials to refocus on a stalled settlement proposal, drafted by the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, during separate meetings in the divided Mediterranean island on Wednesday. "The only route to reunification is negotiation and compromise," Straw said at a news conference at the Ledra Palace hotel in the no-man's land dividing the two sides on Wednesday.

Greek Cypriots have also rejected previous settlement proposals, including one that was personally backed by Annan. Straw arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday following his talks in Cyprus, where his meeting with President Mehmet Ali Talat of the breakaway Turkish republic in the north angered Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos refused to meet Straw and accused Britain, which strongly backs Turkey's hope of joining the EU, of offending Greek Cypriots by visiting Talat's office in the Turkish-controlled north of Nicosia. Cyprus was a British colony from 1878 until independence in 1960.

Straw rejected Papadopoulos' accusations that he was biased, and that is not taking sides in the decades-long dispute in Cyprus. Straw said working toward a deal on Cyprus was one of his top priorities for 2006. Turkish accession to the EU is in Cyprus' interest, he said, emphasizing Turkey's strategic importance as a secular, pro-Western Muslim nation whose neighbors include Iran and Iraq.

Cyprus has been divided between a Greek Cypriot south, home to the island's internationally recognized government, and a Turkish-controlled north since 1974, when Turkey sent in troops in the wake of an abortive Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece. The self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Ankara, reports the AP. N.U.

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