- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

As Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Ankara yesterday for meetings with Turkish leaders,

Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash returned to direct talks for the first time since 1997.

The secretary's visit to Turkey is no coincidence. The current escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey over the fate of Cyprus threatens to undermine alliances that are crucial to the successful prosecution of America's war on terrorism.

Turkey is attempting to use its strategic position to reframe the terms of political negotiations on Cyprus. Just days after Turkey offered to send special forces to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned that Ankara will annex northern Cyprus if the European Union permits the divided republic to enter its ranks in next year's anticipated expansion without a settlement.

Turkey has initiated a high-stakes battle of wills with the EU, and neither side is likely to balk. The dispute could force the U.S. to choose sides between Turkey and the EU at a time when it desperately needs both Europe's full political and moral support and Turkey's military bases and materiel not to mention its symbolic role as the only Muslim democracy in the Middle East. Therefore, Washington has a direct interest in averting a Turkey-EU meltdown over Cyprus.

The brokering of a final settlement in Cyprus before the EU vote in December 2002 is the only way to avoid a major crisis within NATO.

Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash will have to devise a settlement that assuages the psychological and physical suffering both sides in Cyprus have endured since intercommunal violence erupted 38 years ago. In a transition that may take years, Greek and Turkish Cypriots will also have to realign their expectations with the reality of each other's needs.

The initial phase of a transition should focus on territorial readjustment; freedom of movement, employment, and property; economic development in the north; and the settlers from Turkey.

The Turkish side has held onto the ghost town of Varosha, adjacent to Famagusta, as a negotiating chip. Most Turkish Cypriots recognize that territorial readjustment will permit tens of thousands of Greek Cypriot refugees to eventually settle there. Varosha will take years to rebuild, providing an important test for Greek Cypriots, who will have to manage an emotional process that decides which refugees return to Varosha and which do not.

The greatest challenge during the transition period will involve implementation of the three freedoms of movement, employment, and property. The EU and the Greek Cypriots have made clear that these basic freedoms, endorsed by both sides in a high-level 1977 agreement, will have to be accepted in a unified Cyprus.

Memories of living under Greek Cypriot extremist violence prior to 1974 have made Turkish Cypriots wary of the three freedoms. They will need to trust Greek Cypriots again if they are to accept the return of Greek Cypriot refugees and workers to the north.

Greek Cypriots have their own memories of Turkish Cypriot extremists and the 1974 crisis, and will seek assurances that a new government will keep such extremists in check. If the government can limit intercommunal violence, Greek and Turkish Cypriots may regain the confidence to live and work among each other.

The economic situation in the north is desperate, and the income disparity between the two communities is widening. The Turkish economic crisis has only exacerbated the situation. Although Turkish Cypriots yearn for EU membership, they are fearful that wealthier Greek Cypriots will buy out their businesses and land.

That is why a comprehensive economic development program in the north will have to precede Turkish Cypriot acceptance of the freedoms of employment and property.

The toughest problem may involve the so-called settlers. The Cyprus government demands that all Turkish settlers return to Turkey, but the definition of a "settler" is unclear. After all, many settlers have intermarried with Turkish Cypriots over the years and have integrated into Cypriot life.

Given the right financial incentives, many recent settlers, who are mostly poor laborers from Anatolia, might return to Turkey. The Turkish side should agree to return as many of these settlers to Turkey as possible. In exchange, those who choose to remain in Cyprus should receive Cypriot citizenship.

The clock is ticking in Cyprus. After 38 years of conflict and 27 years of de facto division, the current convergence of geopolitical interests may finally necessitate a settlement. As the U.S.-led war against international terrorism intensifies, such a settlement will be critical to a cohesive NATO alliance.

Ankara, Athens and Nicosia must work under U.N. auspices, with vocal support from the U.S. and the EU, to support a determined and engaged negotiating process.

In brokering an agreement, Greek and Turkish Cypriots must plan a balanced transition process that will rebuild the trust essential to a lasting Cypriot peace.

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