- - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

At a time when regional crises appear ubiquitous, there is one decades-old flash point in the world where the chances of reconciliation and a lasting peace are steadily improving: the 50-year old Cyprus dispute.

I have been in Washington this week meeting with American officials at both the White House and State Department, as well as members of Congress and leaders in the think tank world, to discuss exciting developments at home focusing on United Nations-sponsored negotiations between the Greek Cypriot administration and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint declaration last month setting out a new road map for talks in the hope of resolving this 50-year-old dispute once and for all.

Two of the island’s guarantors, NATO members Turkey and Greece, are also playing an instrumental role in the process. For example, Greek Cypriot officials were in Ankara, Turkey, last month for the first time since 1962. Simultaneously, Turkish Cypriot officials visited Athens for the first time since 1959.

For those unfamiliar with the history of modern Cyprus, the 1960 constitution accompanying our independence from Great Britain enshrined an equal partnership dispensation that was supposed to prevent the Greek Cypriot domination of the Turkish Cypriots.

Barely three years later, however, the then-president, Archbishop Makarios, initiated repressive measures against Turkish Cypriots. After the military dictatorship in Greece in 1974 attempted an Anschluss, known locally as Enosis, Turkey sent in military forces to protect the Turkish Cypriots, in accordance with the international Treaty of Guarantee.

Since 1974, a Greek Cypriot administration in the south and a Turkish Cypriot administration in the north has governed the island.

In 2004, then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s peace plan for a federation of the two constituent states joined together by a federal government apparatus was overwhelmingly rejected 3-to-1 by Greek Cypriots in a popular vote, even as Turkish Cypriots voted 2-to-1 in favor.

Despite the Greek Cypriots’ obstinance, they were ushered into the European Union shortly thereafter. Although Turkish Cypriots voted to make painful concessions on behalf of peace and reconciliation, instead of global integration, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus continues to be subjected to cruel international isolation.

Yet, barely a decade later, the mood has changed.

The recent exploration and extraction of natural gas taking place underneath the Levant Basin presents a golden opportunity for a peaceful settlement on our island — and more stable Eastern Mediterranean — provided that the inalienable rights of the Turkish Cypriots to these natural resources are recognized and respected.

A comprehensive agreement will enable the peaceful and prosperous exploration and extraction of the region’s natural resources, which, in turn, will provide vital economic benefits to Cyprus.

Transferring a portion of Israeli gas to Turkey via Cyprus or via a pipeline passing through the territorial waters of the island makes sense economically for potential European consumers.

Last September, Mr. Eroglu submitted a proposal through U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, proposing that the hydrocarbon resources of the island be jointly exploited by the two communities.

He recommended that the total revenue obtained from Cypriot gas be kept in a special account that would be used primarily for financing the implementation of the provisions of a future comprehensive settlement.

Additionally, a new water pipeline anchored to the seabed from Turkey to the island will be christened this summer, potentially eliminating our island’s chronic water shortfalls for several decades.

Some 75 million cubic meters of water is estimated to flow to the island annually. It is anticipated that half of that amount will be used as drinking water and the remainder for irrigation. We have offered to share this precious resource with our Greek Cypriot neighbors.

Turkish Cypriots are determined to work toward a compromise settlement. If our positive and constructive approach is reciprocated by our Greek Cypriot counterparts, we firmly believe that a fair and durable settlement is within reach, not in years, but in a matter of months.

Accordingly, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is grateful for all the support and help extended by the international community, including the United States.

We look forward to America’s continued interest in the process, which will play an important role in the search for a just and lasting settlement.

Ozdil Nami is the minister of foreign affairs for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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