- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

In 2004, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos urged his people to vote “no” on a settlement plan for Cyprus proposed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan — and that action has brought about unprecedented results. First, it helped Turkey improve its negative image on the issue. Turkey had been viewed as an obstacle to unification, but when it proposed a plan last week to lift economic restrictions on Cyprus, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations supported it. Ankara’s plan includes opening Turkish Cypriot air and seaports to international trade while allowing the Greek Cypriot ships and planes the access to the Turkish territory.

Both Greece and the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan, saying that opening its ports is the least Turkey can do, given its ambition to become an EU member. Although solving the Cyprus problem was not a condition for Turkey to open accession talks or gain membership, opening its ports to the Greek Cypriots by the end of the year is an implied expectation. That said, even EU enlargement commissioner Oli Rehn accepted that there is also a responsibility to Turkish Cypriots. The EU offered to reward Turkish Cypriots for supporting the referendum with a trade package totaling 259 million euros. But though the majority of Turkish Cypriots voted “yes,” the Greek Cypriots, as full EU members, blocked the aid measure.

The Greek Cypriots were worried that the poor economy of the North would lead to unbearable economic effects. “Some of my most profound worries about the plan did not concern those areas where we felt that the compromises offered or imposed were simply not fair to us,” Mr. Papadopoulos said during a U.S. visit more than a year ago. “They were promoted by my concern for the kind of Cyprus that would have resulted from this plan and its ability to play its proper role in the EU.” However, Mr. Papadopoulos refuses to acknowledge that while Cyprus receives international attention, a lasting solution can only be reached if the people are willing to solve the problem. If the Greek Cypriots support a solution, they should prioritize to sort out their problems as Cypriot citizens first. If the war-torn Iraqi people can put aside some of their differences to adopt a constitution, a peaceful and democratic Cyprus should easily be able to change from within. When Mr. Papadopoulos prioritizes Greek Cypriots’ EU membership, it casts doubt on his sincerity toward the Turkish Cypriots and whether — to say the least — he wants to prove himself to Turkey.

Turkey’s EU accession talks will take at least a decade, and there is no guarantee that it will become a member. In Washington last week, I asked Turkish National Security Council Secretary General Yigit Alpogan whether the EU could cut off accession talks this year. He replied, “Everyone sees our efforts. We are assuming that no one will come to Turkey and say, look my brother, you did not open your ports to the Greek Cypriots — it is time to end your accession talks. We don’t think that such a thing will happen.”

Greek Cypriots argue that opening Turkish Cypriot ports to international trade will enhance their sovereignty and end all hope of unification. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 540 and 551 supported the Greek Cypriot position for decades, stating that the 1983 declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus “is incompatible with the 1960 Treaty” establishing the Republic of Cyprus. It went on to call the TRNC “legally invalid” and urged other U.N. members not to recognize it. But the number of Turkish Cypriots who voted “yes” for the Annan plan should make it clear that they’re not looking to enhance their independence; they want to unite and be citizens of the European Union. Now, when the new EU constitution talks about borderless unification and integration among its members, Mr. Papadopoulos’ concern that Turkish Cypriots would secede just isn’t realistic.

The Greek Cypriot president may also fail to understand the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to the Western way of life. Even before this latest bout of anxiety over Iran, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Labor Party’s annual conference last year that both Iran and Turkey are key to resolving global conflict in the future. “Each is overwhelmingly Muslim and each, in their separate ways, is crucial to whether the world can be bound together, or fractured along deep political and theological divides,” he said.

Obviously, Turkey’s EU experience will have significant repercussions in the Muslim world. Mr. Alpogan spoke with common sense when he said the EU should not call off Turkey’s accession talks because of the Greek Cypriots’ unilateral demands. He is definitely not voicing a threat to the EU or to the Greek Cypriots. It is simply time for the EU and others to see Turkey not as an adversary but as a fellow country striving for the peace and democracy that everyone wants.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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