ANKARA - Veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said in comments published Monday he would step down if Turkey pressured him to accept what he considered an unacceptable deal to reunite Cyprus. But Denktash, who has been criticized by the opposition at home for holding up peace on the island, said he had not seen any such pressure from Turkey, the only country to recognize his self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. "I am not thinking of resigning," Hurriyet newspaper quoted him as saying. "If Turkey insists on a document that we can not accept, I will quit. But up to now I have not seen such pressure from the government," he said. Cyprus has been effectively partitioned since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to an Athens-backed Greek Cypriot military coup. Turkey keeps 30,000 troops on the island.
The United Nations presented a new peace plan earlier this year, hoping to reunite the island as a partnership of two component states before it joins the European Union in 2004. Turkey faces the prospect of a major crisis in its own relations with the European Union if there is no solution to the Cyprus problem. Its own chances of joining the bloc would be seriously hampered if a divided Cyprus, effectively the Greek Cypriot part, joins the EU. Efforts to reach an agreement before an EU summit in December at which Cyprus was officially invited to join the bloc failed. The U.N. is now pushing for a solution by the end of February and talks are due to restart on January 7. Denktash returned to the island on Sunday after a long absence due to health problems. He underwent two heart operations in October in New York and has spent only five days in Cyprus since then. For the past few weeks he has been recovering in Ankara where he held regular talks with Turkish government and military leaders whose influence will be important in reaching a deal. Around 30,000 Turkish Cypriots held a rally last week calling for Denktash to quit in one of the biggest challenges to his authority ever seen on the island. Denktash has said he will continue talks with the Greek Cypriot side but has expressed serious reservations about parts of the plan dealing with handing over territory.