- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — After routine diplomatic congratulations on an agreement last week for talks between the two Cypriot communities, a more somber side of the deadlock has emerged.

The list of issues is so daunting that it has thwarted all previous negotiating efforts.

The protagonists, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, disagree even on their nationality. Some say the island in the eastern Mediterranean has no Cypriot nation but only Greeks and Turks living there.

Cypriots are divided by religion, language and loyalty to two Mediterranean foes: Turkey and Greece.

Even in the best of times, the ethnic groups have never lived together, but side by side. Intermarriage was rare and social contacts were superficial and strained. In mixed villages, each community had its own leader and its own rules.

The separation was institutionalized by a massive flight of Greek Cypriots from areas seized by the Turkish army in 1974 and the resettlement of the Turkish Cypriot minority in the northern part of the island.

Thus for the past 34 years, two separate economies, educational systems and other institutions have developed.

Such is the history that Presidents Demetris Christofias of the Greek Cypriots and Mehmet Ali Talat of the Turkish Cypriots faced Friday when they pledged to unite the disparate ethnic components.

Their short-term objectives and decisions were limited: to meet again after three months, establish technical committees and open a pedestrian crossing in the heart of the divided capital. The removal of barricades and the securing of adjacent gutted houses could take time.

“It’s hard to see what more could have been done,” one diplomat said.

Said another foreign envoy: “They couldn’t really do less without sinking the talks.”

One of Mr. Christofias’ objectives is to negotiate the withdrawal of the 35,000-strong Turkish garrison from northern Cyprus, or at least a part of it.

That electoral pledge is unlikely to be fulfilled. Ankara has announced its opposition as well as a refusal to negotiate with the Greek Cypriot government, which it does not recognize, and the Turkish Cypriots are in no position to discuss Turkish military matters with Greek Cypriots.

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