- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Peace talks scheduled for next month between the president of the Republic of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, constitute the most propitious opportunity to resolve the Cyprus problem in more than four years. The agreement for direct negotiations resulted from a recent face-to-face meeting between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash, which was followed by the first crossing to the Turkish-occupied area by a Cypriot president since 1974. It is especially encouraging that both parties agreed to discuss all issues without any preconditions. However, for these talks to succeed, old disagreements and delaying tactics must be put aside, while focusing on the future and the well-being of all Cypriots.
Prior to this agreement, talks to resolve the Cyprus issue had been stalled due to the reluctance of Mr. Denktash, and his benefactor, Turkey, to join in any efforts to negotiate a settlement to the Cyprus problem. This apparent new attitude professed by Mr. Denktash in his recent letter to The Washington Times is encouraging. Up until Dec. 4, Mr. Denktash repeatedly rejected calls from the United Nations, the international community and the government of Cyprus to return to the U.N.-sponsored talks he abruptly abandoned two years ago. His recent change of heart in deciding to return to the negotiating table bodes well. But for Mr. Denktash's words to meet the expectations they have engendered, they must be matched by his actions at the negotiating table where the commitment of the Turkish Cypriot community, as well as of the government of Cyprus, will be truly measured.
In the interim, the government of Cyprus has already made substantial concessions in its effort to achieve peace and reunify Cyprus. Chief among those compromises has been the acceptance of a bizonal, bicommunal federation that will end the island's division, in a state of Cyprus with a single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship, while providing autonomy to both regions. Yet despite this and other initiatives, the Turkish Cypriot leadership has time and again injected new conditions, essentially moving the goal posts at crucial junctures throughout the history of this conflict. Hopefully, this will not be the situation this time around.
The significance of next month's talks is all the more important in light of the widely anticipated accession of Cyprus to the European Union (EU), which will culminate when EU member-countries decide on the next wave of enlargement in December 2002. In spite of Turkey's renewed threats to annex the northern part of the island it occupies illegally, the EU has promised not to make a solution to the Cyprus problem a precondition to membership. Europe's policy toward Cyprus is critical, as nothing but accession will do more to make certain that all Cypriots, especially Turkish Cypriots, will enjoy the same security, economic opportunities, human rights, legal protections, and civil liberties which Europeans benefit from, without having to leave their homes.
Similarly, settlement of the Cyprus issue is more than ever before critical to the United States, which depends on the cohesiveness of its coalition allies, including fellow NATO members Greece and Turkey. In the same vein, our nation cannot stand by as Turkey threatens the next wave of enlargement of the EU a key ally over the accession of Cyprus, at a time when the support of both is essential in our fight against international terrorism. It is important for Turkey to reverse course on Cyprus and push Mr. Denktash's regime in the occupied north toward peace. For too many times in the past, Turkey's behind-the-scenes influence has stifled any hope of a settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Accordingly, much is at stake in the long-sought settlement of the conflict that bedevils the last divided nation in Europe, but none more important than the reconciliation and well-being of two communities that share the same homeland and for the most part, a long peaceful coexistence. Both also share the same interest of achieving peace and security while earning prosperity as a single nation within the EU. The time is fast approaching for both communities to make good on these fresh expectations, without remaining hostage to the past.
Since September 11, the United States, Britain and other major Western powers have, quite rightly, viewed most foreign political and economic issues through the prism of the war on terrorism. It is important for Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash to fully realize that the greatest contribution to that effort, and for their own people, is to achieve peace in Cyprus. While the Cypriot government has been committed to finding a resolution, Mr. Denktash has not. Hence, the significance of his current apparent willingness to finally join Mr. Clerides at the negotiating table in what will, hopefully, prove a serious effort to resolve this longstanding conflict.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman is chairman emeritus of the House International Relations Committee.

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