- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008


It remains to be seen whether the election results in the Republic of Cyprus will create the political climate and pragmatic conditions leading to the elusive reunification of the divided island.

It is becoming clear, however, that the choice of Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, former popular president of the House of Representatives since 2001 and leader of the communist AKEL party with ties to Moscow, firmly signals that the Greek Cypriot people voted for change.

Promising swift action on the hapless reunification front, President Christofias seized the initiative for prompt meetings with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mehmet Ali Talat to establish a negotiation process at the level of six working groups and seven technical committees dealing with crucial aspects of the Cyprus problem. Mindful of the failure of the United Nations Comprehensive Settlement Plan, better known as the Annan Plan - accepted by Turkish Cypriots but turned down in a reunification referendum by Greek Cypriots four years ago - Greek Cypriots sought different venues to reflect the constructive spirit of the new administration.

There has been progress. During a meeting at the end of May, the two leaders issued a joint statement on the thorny issue of governance. Their affirmation of a commitment to a bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality, defined by relevant Security Council resolutions, offers a door to a “partnership with a federal government with a single international personality, as well as a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State of equal status.”

Considering the insistence on a federation by the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and the preference of a confederation by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, this signals a compromise, roughly based on the Swiss canton model, an arrangement that could well signal a first breakthrough. Furthermore, political power-sharing has emerged via a process of parallel consulting of core and soft issues to allow progress in one segment without prejudice to others.

Considering the complexity of the reunification issue, the concept of “constructive parallelism” - meaning a two-track process rendering core issues and humanitarian issues codependent - promises results.

The tasks of the two commissions will be reviewed this month when the two leaders meet again at the U.N.-controlled Nicosia airport.

Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Talat have known and sparred with each other for a long time. Both are regarded as skilled and compatible politicians. Yet being well-aware that friendships between politicians, such as President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, do not necessarily translate into political success, diplomats are hedging their bets. Nevertheless, chances for the solution of the latest of many efforts to decipher the Cyprus conundrum after 34 years of uneasy separation have, unexpectedly, improved.

“The Berlin Wall has not collapsed,” announced the Greek Cypriot minister of foreign affairs at the recent opening of the sixth crossing point at Ledra Street in the divided capital of Nicosia. He left no doubt that he would like to walk the street without checkpoints.

Commenting on a “new chapter,” the TRNC’s Mehmet Talat is well-aware that reunification will be “very difficult” and “not so easy for Mr. Christofias either.” While President Christofias chooses to “be patient” and “not predict anything,” his team speaks of “different dynamics” and expectations that the internal situation in Turkey will temper its dogmatic positions if it really contemplates a viable solution.

In Ankara, fighting for accession to the European Union, it is unforgotten that the Turkish Cypriot community had approved the U.N.’s reunification referendum in April 2004. Also unforgotten is the fact the European Union did not hesitate to reward the Greek Republic of Cyprus by granting membership for their rejection of that referendum a week later.

Though widely praised by the international community for its cooperation with the U.N. and the EU, the TRNC remained virtually empty-handed. The EU’s award of 259 million euros for economic development had its caveats. Earmarked to be project-related, it turned out those projects were not approved by a powerful officialdom that cavalierly refused to recognize their urgency.

Turkey and the TRNC retaliated by changing the island’s demographics. Based on the increased flow of Anatolian “settlers” during the last years and their extraordinary birthrates, the island’s Turkish minority has increased from 180,000 to 265,000, facing 660,000 Greek Cypriots - numbers bound to affect the political impact of the Turkish Cypriot community and change the minority equation concerning governance, territory, property and other crucial issues - such as the status of 40,000 Turkish occupation troops in Northern Cyprus.

Rising numbers of reunification skeptics maintain that the only solution may be the status quo of the two communities’ coexistence on the Mediterranean island settled, conquered, overrun, visited and occupied from the Stone Age to 1960.

However, there is new thinking in Cyprus and the island has another chance. To succeed, compromises on key issues will be as much a necessity as political good will.

Viola Herms Drath, is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

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