Monday, March 1, 2004

Betting on Cyprus

Can Paker is one of Turkey’s leading foreign-policy experts, but he is also an oddsmaker in the best tradition of Las Vegas.

Mr. Paker yesterday set the odds at 80 percent that Turkish Cypriots and Turkish voters will approve a referendum next month on a plan proposed by the United Nations for the reunification of Cyprus.

“This is a historic turning point for Cyprus,” he told a briefing at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

Mr. Paker chaired a study group on behalf of Turkey’s TESEV think tank to study the proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who hopes to end the division of Cyprus before May 1, when the country is scheduled to be admitted to the European Union.

The EU has decided to admit the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government alone, if the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, refuses to accept the U.N. plan.

However, political forces are aligning favorably for the plan in both the TRNC and in Turkey, Mr. Paker said.

Turkish-Cypriot politicians who support the plan won half of the seats in the TRNC legislature in last year’s elections. Turkey, meanwhile, is pursing its own goal of entering the EU and knows it must solve the Cyprus problem first, he said.

Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who has opposed the plan, will “at least be advised to keep silent” by his backers in Turkey, Mr. Paker added.

In Turkey, the power center has shifted to the legislative branch of government from the military and bureaucracy, which traditionally controlled the lawmakers, he said.

“This could be the first time that an important issue like Cyprus will be decided by the elected leaders,” Mr. Paker said.

Mensur Akgun, the group’s foreign-policy program director, explained that Turkey’s desire to begin membership talks with the EU is the “biggest catalytic effect toward solving the Cyprus problem.”

However, an EU failure to invite Turkey into accession talks will “create a political crisis” for the Turkish government, he predicted.

Although the political climate is hopeful, some Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot citizens remain skeptical about the U.N. plan. Members of both communities fear losing their cultural identity or oppose certain parts of the plan that deal with property claims dating to the relocation of both ethnic groups after the division of the island in the 1970s.

Sylvia Tiryaki, another TESEV member, said the U.N. plan creates a federal government with two state governments representing the two ethnic groups.

“It’s kind of a hybrid of the constitution of the 1960s and a new state,” she said.

Before ethnic clashes and the division of the island, the constitution provided for power-sharing between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority.

Romania grows up

Romanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru looks at his country as a nation that has grown dramatically since the overthrow of communism in 1989.

Even the latest news on government corruption is a sign of maturity, he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Ducaru said his government is not afraid to concede that it has a problem with official corruption, but what rarely gets reported are the government measures to clean up the mess.

“Is there a problem? Yes. But until last year we had no anticorruption laws,” he said, explaining that the government is prosecuting officials accused of peddling influence, accepting bribes or fixing government contracts.

“We lost 50 years of history, first with the Nazis and then with the communists,” he said. “The country has a new vitality.”

Many of the officials now in charge were students more than 14 years ago when they helped overthrow dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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