- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

The postponement of the third round of "proximity" talks on the reunification of Cyprus until July 5 may be a blessing in disguise. Though caused by the abdominal operation and recovery of President Glafcos Clerides, more time and fresh thinking are needed to overcome the substantial hurdles that led to the stalemate of the first and second rounds. The exploration of "core" issues in preparation of a comprehensive settlement between the conflicted Greek and Turkish parties of the divided island remains shrouded in secrecy. But the lack of progress is clear. Security, distribution of powers, property and territory proved to be loaded topics.

Impeded by power politics, separatism and sectarianism, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not succeed in narrowing the diverging positions on federalism, as advocated by Greek Cypriots, versus a confederacy, demanded by the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Asking for acknowledgment of the "realities of the situation," Turkish negotiators insist on recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that was unilaterally created in 1983.

So far Ankara's position "to intensify integration" with Turkish Cypriots has not softened with the accession negotiations to EU membership. Turkey still maintains that Northern Cyprus is of vital strategic interest and must remain an autonomous entity. Considering that the Turkish minority of Cyprus, representing a mere 18 percent of the population, occupies 37 percent of the island, the territorial dispute promises to be a major obstacle in reaching common ground during the upcoming talks.

Supported by the international community, talks about "core" issues are integral to an agreement on an outline for a settlement. But the answer to the current situation, based on the equal status of the two parties by Turkish Cypriots, would seem to lie in an integrated yet separate approach based on core issues plus an intra-Cyprus policy of confidence-building measures and humanitarian issues. Notwithstanding previously frustrated efforts, a negotiating policy incorporating small steps regarding exchanges, environment, water supply, agriculture and combating drug trafficking and so forth could help to change encrusted attitudes.

Equality has become the watchword for Turkish Cypriots. The green light for restoration of cultural and religious property, such as the Apostoles Andreas Monestary in the Muslim north and the Hala Sultan mosque in the Greek orthodox south, was only given after the equal status of the archeological teams was formally confirmed. Such cooperative projects should help further exchanges that in time would focus on human rights, among them free movement for all Cypriots throughout the entire island.

Divided into two zones since 1974 when Turkey occupied the northern part of the island with 35,000 ground troops in response to a coup by supporters of a union with Greece, Cyprus's two parties have not held direct bilateral talks in 18 years. Since then Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have vowed to approach the negotiating table only when Greece and Greek Cypriots "recognize the sovereignty rights of the north and not before."

Since U.N. membership of the Turkish Cypriot government was denied, it has flatly rejected the U.N. Security Council's proposal for a settlement based on a State of Cyprus "with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded and comprising two politically equal communities in a bi-commual and bi-zonal federation excluding union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession". Adamant about its equality status, Ankara and its Turkish Cypriot leadership insist on a confederation of two independent, autonomous states.

So the lines are drawn. Recent improvements in Greek-Turkish relations have left positive imprints on the Cyprus situation. Recent resolutions concerning the reduction of foreign troops, military hardware and de-mining leading to an eventual demilitarization of the island have been adopted by the U.N. Security Council and endorsed by the G-8 for whom the ongoing Cyprus conflict presents a destabilizing factor in a volatile region. While Turkey still holds the key to the resolution of the Cyprus conflict, the answer lies in European integration. Once relations between Ankara and Athens become fully normalized they will no longer polarize Turkish and Greek Cypriots. And as geostrategic changes make the military, political and economic costs of maintaining Northern Cyprus counterproductive and unaffordable Ankara may well revise its position.

The Cyprus question is neither a religious nor an ethnic dispute. It is a territorial conflict involving third party Greece and Turkey entanglements. This makes it a conflict rooted in power politics that can be addressed within the context of changing national and geostrategic interests. Outside parties can play a pivotal role in softening the positions of the sponsoring powers.

Washington's well-intentioned push for a quick solution should be welcomed because it underlines the importance of the elusive Cyprus settlement.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

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