(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) Turkey's EU membership bid has been at a standstill because of the Cyprus issue, said Turkey's EU Minister Volkan Bozkir on Thursday.
Accession talks began in 2005 but negotiations hit a stalemate in 2007 because of Turkey's position on the Cyprus issue and German and French opposition at the time.
"If we had a mentality of sacrificing the Turkish Cypriots, we would now probably have become an EU member," Bozkir said in a live TV interview on Turkey's state broadcaster TRT on Thursday evening.
Turkey is the only nation to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC, while most of the international community acknowledges the Greek Cypriot administration, which is an EU member.
Bozkir said Turkey had to slow down its EU membership bid in order to preserve the Turkish Cypriots and their rights.
He took the opportunity to say he had congratulated the new president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, on his win Sunday.
Relations between Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had gotten off to a rocky start when the latter criticized the former's remarks on the relationship between their two respective countries.
Akinci, who received more than 60 percent of the vote, said that rather than viewing Turkey as the "motherland," his country wanted "brotherly" ties with Ankara. This drew a swift rebuke from Erdogan who told Akinci that he had to "watch his words."
Erdogan said that Turkey had made investments worth over $1 billion in Northern Cyprus, and reminded his counterpart that Turkish soldiers had died to secure the region.
Bozkir said Akinci's remarks were "unfortunate," adding that he wished Akinci would come to Turkey.
"Here we can develop a common strategy," he said. "He can sit at the negotiation table [with the Greek part of the island] with powerful backing from Turkey. Hopefully, the Cyprus problem can be solved."
Cyprus has been divided since a Greek Cypriot coup to unite the island with Greece was thwarted by a Turkish military intervention and peace operation in 1974.
Negotiations between the TRNC and the Greek Cypriot administration resumed after a two-year pause in February 2013 but the Greek Cypriot administration suspended negotiations after Turkey sent a gas exploration vessel to waters off southern Cyprus in October last year. Turkey later called back the ship.
Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987. To gain membership, Turkey must successfully conclude negotiations with the EU in 35 policy areas, or "chapters," which include reforms and the adoption of European standards. So far 14 chapters have been opened, while 17 remain blocked and another four have yet to be discussed.
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