27 June - 3 July 2002
Issue No. 592
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Cypriot impasseTalks aimed at reuniting the divided island of Cyprus ahead of its scheduled admission to the European Union have failed, reports Michael Jansen from Nicosia
Progress in negotiations on a Cyprus settlement have fallen hostage to United States President George W Bush administration's determination to effect "regime change" in Iraq and bickering between Turkey's politicians over the country's European Union candidacy.
Intensive talks over the past five months achieved little progress and reached breakdown point on 20 June, ten days before the United Nations appointed date for achieving an outline agreement.
Accused of intransigence by the Greek Cypriot media, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash alleged that the Greek Cypriot side was trying to make him walk out. The session scheduled for the next day was scrapped. However, Denktash agreed to attend the meeting on the 25th and carry on until the round ends on 2 July. At this juncture, UN envoy Alvaro de Soto is expected to fly to New York to brief Secretary-General Kofi Annan who may or may not take up the talks' failure with the Security Council.
Diplomats here say that the Turkish side has not relinquished its demand that the new Cypriot republic should consist of a loose confederation of two, independent sovereign states. Since such a settlement would legitimise the island's de facto partition, it has been rejected by the Greek Cypriots and the international community which call for the establishment of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with single sovereignty.
"There have been signs from the Greek Cypriot side of genuine flexibility," stated British envoy Lord David Hannay in an interview with Turk CNN. "I don't want to be too categorical about the Turkish Cypriot side but I have been disappointed at various moments in recent weeks."
Denktash's stance is dictated by Ankara's hard-line politicians and generals. Last weekend Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit, the man who ordered the 1974 occupation of the northern 37 per cent of the island, stated, "For us, the Cyprus problem has been solved." He can afford to take this line because he knows that any recourse to the Council would be scuppered by Washington and London who depend on Turkish air-bases to mount aerial patrols over northern Iraq. The Bush administration is likely to become increasingly dependent on Ankara in coming months if the Central Intelligence Agency steps up efforts to undermine Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with the aim of overthrowing his government. While Ankara has expressed its opposition to such a venture, Turkey and Kuwait are the only countries that neighbour Iraq which could be used as bases for this enterprise.
However, Ankara is not free from pressure. The European Union (EU) has made it clear that Turkey's candidacy will not be considered until it ends its occupation of northern Cyprus, agrees to the island's reunification in a federation and allows the Turkish Cypriot part to join the EU along with the Greek Cypriots. Deputy Premier Mesut Yilmaz has castigated Ecevit and the hard-liners for jeopardising Turkey's ultimate EU accession. In Yilmaz's view, Turkey's future economic prosperity and democratisation depend on EU entry. Ecevit, who is not in the Europhobe camp, argues that Turkey is "so important to Europe" that it will secure membership whether the Cyprus problem is solved or not. The Europhobes do not believe the EU will ever grant membership to Turkey and, consequently, oppose Turkey's candidacy as well as "concessions" over Cyprus. Seeking to keep a foot in both the pro-EU and anti-EU camps, Ecevit appointed a leading Europhobe, Mumtaz Soysal, as Denktash's constitutional adviser for the Cyprus negotiations.
While Denktash is prepared to talk indefinitely, the deadline for a settlement is December 2002. Cyprus' application for EU membership is almost certain to be approved at the December EU summit in Copenhagen. In an obvious attempt to encourage Ankara to be more flexible over Cyprus, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique -- who holds the rotating presidency -- said at last weekend's summit in Seville that the EU hopes to set a timetable for Turkey to open accession talks in December. Also current Greek Cypriot negotiator President Glafkos Clerides is set to step down after the February 2003 election. Clerides' successor is almost certain to be less accommodating.
Cyprus' EU entry in early 2004 could precipitate a major crisis in the eastern Mediterranean because Ankara has threatened to annex the occupied north if Cyprus joins the bloc ahead of a settlement. However, the EU is in no position to capitulate.
Greece has vowed to use its veto to prevent EU expansion if Cyprus does not enter on time due to opposition from any of the current 15 member states. Furthermore, Athens has committed itself to defend Cyprus should Turkey take military action. Therefore, failure to secure a settlement could lead to a deep stall in the EU enlargement process and escalation of the simmering Greek-Turkish conflict.
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