- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

Two aging war horses have 12 months to make peace on the divided island of Cyprus or risk going into retirement with little but failure to show for their time in government. Rauf Denktash, who has headed the Turkish region of the island for 27 years, and Cyprus' Greek president, Glafcos Clerides, who is expected to retire in just over a year, have few new points to make. But in a ground-breaking meeting last week their first in four years the two rulers agreed that they wanted to come to the table again Jan. 16. They also agreed that they would have a settlement on the future of the divided island in six months, according to the United Nations' special envoy to Cyprus, Alvara de Soto. The main roadblocks now are threats made by the islands' two quarrelling godparents: Turkey and Greece.

By this time next year, the European Union is expected to ask Cyprus, the leading candidate among 10 potential members from Central and Eastern Europe, to join the organization. But standing on the sidelines are Greece and Turkey, two NATO members who have come close to war three times during Mr. Denktash's rule alone. Right up until last week's meeting of the two Cypriot leaders, Turkey and Greece continued to issue threats and make recriminations. So when Mr. Denktash invited Mr. Clerides over to his place for dinner on his side of the border, and Mr. Clerides accepted, the squabbling godparents were forced, at least for a moment, to shut up and watch. Welcomed with white doves and balloons, Mr. Clerides became the first Greek Cypriot president to cross to the Turkish-occupied zone in 27 years.

As for next month's meetings, the godparents would be wise to stay silent for awhile. While both have much at stake on their prize island, they will jeopardize not only the future of Cyprus but that of their own countries if they continue making tiresome threats. A final settlement on Cyprus will have to include recognition of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot rights to autonomy in local affairs. While the beginning of the last dance is in progress, no interruptions please.

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