EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır said on Thursday that Turkey's EU membership bid has been at a standstill because of the Cyprus issue.
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," Bozkır said in a live TV interview on Turkey's state broadcaster TRT on Thursday evening.
Turkey is the only nation to recognize Turkish Cyprus while the majority of the international community recognizes Greek Cyprus, which is an EU member.
Bozkır said Turkey had to slow down its EU membership bid in order to preserve Turkish Cypriots and their rights.
He took the opportunity to say he had congratulated the new president of Turkish Cyprus, Mustafa Akıncı, on his win Sunday.
Relations between Akıncı and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had gotten off to a rocky start when the latter criticized the former's remarks on the relationship between their two countries.
Akıncı, who won with 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 Erdoğan who told Akıncı that he had to "watch his words."
Erdoğan said that Turkey had made investments worth over $1 billion in Turkish Cyprus and pointed out that Turkish soldiers had died to secure the region.
Bozkır said Akıncı's remarks were "unfortunate," adding that he wished Akıncı 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 in 1974.
Negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cyprus resumed after a two-year pause in February 2013, but Greek Cyprus suspended negotiations after Turkey sent a hydrocarbon exploration vessel off Greek Cyprus' southern coast 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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