- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Hope for unification of Cyprus is ebbing, and politicians once again speak of deadlock on the divided Mediterranean island.

Although lifting travel restrictions across the dividing “Green Line” was widely applauded and has helped contacts between the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots, the political scene has remained paralyzed.

Diplomats say that while the island’s inhabitants have moved somewhat closer, their politicians remain firmly apart.

The United States and the European Union blame Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for his refusal to resume negotiations on the basis of a United Nations formula that he torpedoed in March.

However, increasing numbers of foreign envoys and local leaders feel the plan drafted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should be modified. The plan calls for a bicommunal confederation accompanied by territorial adjustments and some population transfers between the Greek- and Turkish-speaking zones.

In recent weeks, the tone of official statements by Mr. Denktash has become harsher.

“I think [Mr. Denktash] may be taking a much harder position than I have seen him take in the past. … I would identify that as a change for the worst,” said Thomas Weston, the State Department’s coordinator for Cyprus, after meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader last week.

Replied Mr. Denktash: “There is nothing on the table for us which can make me say yes, nothing at all.”

The statement is seen by diplomats as precluding resumption of the political dialogue in the foreseeable future, to some degree complicating the accession of Cyprus to the European Union next spring.

Cyprus has been accepted by the European Union as one state, although the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) has refused to participate in the accession talks.

Nonetheless, the EU Commission proposed an economic recovery package of $15 million to the north of Cyprus and agreed to accept previously boycotted Turkish Cypriot exports provided they are shipped through “legal” — that is Greek Cypriot — ports.

Mr. Denktash said he would accept the money but no restrictions on shipment of Turkish Cypriot goods. The demand was in keeping with his struggle for recognition of the TRNC as a separate entity.

Gunther Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, told the Cypriots last week: “If you want, it will be a united Cyprus that joins the union. The conditions for it are all there.”

He added, however, that the confidence-building measures that followed the opening of the checkpoints would never be an alternative to a reunification of the island.

Without a compromise formula on the island’s unity, the European Union faces an unprecedented dilemma: When the Greek part of Cyprus joins the union, it will become the only divided EU country policed by a U.N. military contingent and with part of its territory occupied by a foreign (Turkish) army.

Diplomats argue that, legally, the U.N. force, on the island since 1964, will have to be replaced by the European Union. The Greek side feels safer with the U.N. contingent — whose mandate is renewed every six months — but also wants EU involvement.

There is no such provision in EU statutes, and there seem to be no easy answers besides the continuing search for the proverbial window of opportunity.

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