Ankara: EU candidate Turkey will freeze relations with the European Union if Cyprus is given the EU presidency in 2012, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Anatolian late on Saturday.
The comments could signal a new low point in ties between the European Union and Turkey which began accession talks to the bloc in 2005.
They also come at a time of heightened tension in the eastern Mediterranean where Turkey is locked in a row with Cyprus over potential offshore gas deposits and Turkey`s relations with one-time ally Israel are frayed.
In what looked set to trigger a showdown between Turkey and EU-member Cyprus, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said on Sunday Cyprus would start drilling for hydrocarbons "within the next few days”.
"If the peace negotiations there (Cyprus) are not conclusive, and the EU gives its rotating presidency to southern Cyprus, the real crisis will be between Turkey and the EU," Anatolian quoted Atalay as telling Turkish Cypriot Bayrak Radio and TV at the end of a trip to northern Cyprus.
"Because we will then freeze our relations with the EU. We have made this announcement, as a government we have made this decision. Our relations with the EU will come to a sudden halt."
An official at the European Commission declined to comment on Atalay`s statement.
The internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government is due to take on the six-month rotating EU presidency in July 2012. Turkey does not recognise Greek Cyprus as a sovereign state.
Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. UN-sponsored peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have stumbled since they were re-launched in 2008. The United Nations has set an October deadline for a peace settlement but it is unlikely an agreement will be reached by then.
While Muslim Turkey started EU accession talks in 2005, progress has been slow, largely because of the conflict with Cyprus. The EU says Ankara must meet a pledge to open up traffic from the Greek Cypriot part of the island under a deal known as the Ankara protocol. Turkey says the EU should end its blockade of the Turkish Cypriot enclave.