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Cyprus needs Turkey and Greece January 5, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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It is so easy to be pessimistic about the chances for a solution to the Cyprus problem. When one reads all the negative comments and analyses by Turkish and foreign pundits, one has to admit that most of them have a point. It’s true: The Greek Cypriots are in a comfortable position – a member of the European Union and prosperous, and not inclined to share both with their Turkish neighbors on the island. Why indeed would Turkey be willing to put pressure on the Turkish Cypriots, knowing that a solution for the decades-old problem is by no way a guarantee that they will eventually be accepted as an EU member? The present situation is not ideal, but most Cypriots have learned to cope with it. Partition seems permanent and only naïve well-wishers seem to believe in change.

Still, I refuse to surrender. I was on Cyprus just before Bayram and was able to listen to Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and to talk to many well-informed insiders from both communities. To prepare for those meetings, I have been reading a book called “Reunifying Cyprus,” a collection of essays on the Annan Plan and on the reasons why this latest and most detailed plan for a united Cyprus failed to get a majority among the Greek Cypriots in 2004.

There seems to be a consensus among the authors of the book and among the Cyprus watchers in general that one of the main reasons for the rejection of the Annan Plan was the strong feeling in the south of the island that the plan was made by foreigners from the U.N. and the EU and was imposed on the Cypriots without real involvement of the latter. It is one of the reasons why the present negotiations between the two communities are organized and presented as a bottom-up process. The U.N. has a limited role as facilitator, and the EU has taken a back seat and only checks whether the results of the talks are in line with EU legislation.

I am still convinced that this new approach, putting all the responsibility on the shoulders of the leaders on the island, can bear fruit. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots I spoke to believe that Dimitris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat are able and willing to strike a deal before mid-February 2010, the date seen by many as the ultimate deadline. Nobody thinks it will be easy, but detailed opinion polls on both sides of the island suggest that well-calibrated compromises on properties and governance could get a majority in both communities. The real problem is with security, the No. 1 concern for the Greek Cypriots. For a comprehensive and sustainable solution on issues such as troops and rights to intervene, two key players need to step in: Turkey and Greece.

Both countries should use the next 10 weeks to get together and decide on an effective strategy. Firstly, to strongly support the efforts of Talat and Christofias to reach an agreement without outside interference. The two leaders need that support to shield them against accusations of treason from the fanatics on both sides. Secondly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Greek colleague George Papandreou should finalize the draft chapter on security by filling in the blanks. Of course, the U.K., the U.N. and the EU should also play a role there, but the decisive moves can only be made by the leaders of Turkey and Greece. They should show real leadership and go to the limits to formulate a solution.

The result of all these efforts, on the island, in Ankara and in Athens, should be a plan that is “homemade” by the Cypriots themselves, with the help of outsiders only when needed. Can such a plan be realized? It might. Could it be adopted? It could. Should it be tried? It should.

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