Merkel to offer German help over Cyprus impasse

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Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday she would visit Cyprus in January to offer Germany's help in resolving an impasse holding up security cooperation and Turkey joining the European Union.

"This will be an opportunity for me to see if Germany can play a helpful role in resolving the difficulties that there are," Merkel said after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin.

Erdogan said progress towards Turkey joining the EU "should not slow down," and he had asked Merkel for Germany's support. Merkel reiterated her position that the process had an "open end".

The Cyprus situation is "important for us all, primarily in issues of security cooperation between NATO and the EU. Both sides have an interest in this, but of course there has to be movement on both sides," Merkel said.

Turkey has blocked closer security cooperation between NATO and the EU amid long-standing, entangled problems with Greece and Cyprus, who have in turn hampered Turkey's own efforts for closer ties with EU institutions.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided into a Turkish north and Greek south since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied the island's northern third in response to a Greek Cypriot coup.

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south joined the EU in 2004. Turkey refuses to recognise the Greek Cypriot government and instead acknowledges the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north.

The impasse, with Turkey refusing to open its ports to traffic from Cyprus, is a key stumbling block in its efforts to join the EU. Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but eight membership "chapters" remain frozen.

Germany, together with fellow EU heavyweight France, is cool on the idea of the mainly Muslim country of some 73 million people joining the bloc, preferring instead a "privileged partnership".

Erdogan complained during a visit to Bulgaria on Monday that the EU was putting up hurdles to Turkey's accession.

© 2010 AFP

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