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Pursuing a Real Solution on Cyprus

By on May 2, 2013
Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides

We’ve had the chance to tackle with the Cyprus question. We’ve always been talking about the Cyprus question when we were on the phone with Mr. Kerry, and as a result of the elections held in the northern part of Cyprus, there are certain opportunities signaling, and we have to make the utmost use of the opportunities that reveal themselves. It is time to set our foot forward for a sustainable peace between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, and that balance will have a great positive impact on the relations between the Turks and the Greeks. Primarily, the NATO relations and within the Atlantic axis, we will heave a sigh of relief if those relations will improve. And we expect the United States to take up a close interest in those discussions. And Secretary of State believes as well that there is an opportunity window which is revealing itself right now, and we will keep on working on those issues.

– Remarks of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in April 7 press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

And so it began.  Turkey – long the master of opportunity – has enthusiastically seized the occasion of Cyprus’ economic crisis to try to force a reunification of Cyprus – now occupied and illegally divided for the 39th year – on its own terms.  Ankara and several of its allies in the West who would just as soon have Cyprus off of the agenda have adopted flawed logic while pushing the idea of an “opportunity window” to settle Cyprus.  Their logic argues that Greek Cypriots rejected the 2004 Annan Plan because they felt economically secure and had no incentive to make sacrifices for peace.  Today, with such economic security gone, Greek Cypriots can be forced into a different position.

The first problem with that logic is that it ignores exactly why the Annan Plan was rejected.  The Greek Cypriots were asked to accept the elimination of their vibrant democracy with a governance structure that not eschewed the principle of equal representation and the freedom of movement that all other E.U. citizens enjoy, but to accept such non-democratic principles like foreign citizens on Cyprus’ Supreme Court, and Turkey’s continued status as “guarantor” of Cyprus’ sovereignty (with the accompanying power to “intervene” to make good on such guarantee).  It ignores that acceptance of the Plan did not guarantee immediate withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces, or that the Plan relieved the occupying power of the obligation of compensating Cypriots from whom it seized property.

But here’s the dirty little secret of the friends of the Annan Plan: they didn’t (and still don’t) care about the details of reunification.  They don’t care if they are just, they don’t care whether they represent a real break through for Greco-Turkish relations, they don’t care if they lead to an unworkable system of government in the Eastern Mediterranean.  THEY – officials in the State Department, in the White House, in the U.K, at the U.N. – desperately want Cyprus off the agenda.

If there is an opportunity window for the reunification of Cyprus, it is not because of the economic crisis.  The discovery of natural gas fields in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone is of potentially great benefit to all Cypriots, and also gives Turkey (which has great energy needs and imports almost all its energy) immediate economic incentive to normalize relations with Cyprus.  The convincing electoral mandate achieved by the President of the Republic of Cyprus – Nicos Anastasiades (who at great risk supported even the Annan Plan in 2004) – shows that the Greek Cypriots have a leader more interested in peace than Ankara is.  The leadership of Turkish Cypriot community leader Dervis Eroglu – who backtracked on all the progress made between his predecessor Mehmet Talat and the threats of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to ship more settlers to occupied Cyprus, have left Turkish Cypriots dissatisfied.

To make the most of the opportunity, those who truly want to solve Cyprus must start wrestling concessions from Turkey.  In the first five years of the Obama presidency, we’ve witnessed the U.S. press Israel to freeze settlements, loosen restrictions on the Gaza blockade, and apologize to Turkey.  If President Obama is willing to press the U.S.’s most reliable ally in the region to make concessions in the name of peace, it is time that his Administration made similar demands on an ally it has elevated to equal status with Israel.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides visits Secretary Kerry on May 10.  Prime Minister Erdogan visit Washington D.C. the week after.  The annual PSEKA Conference occurs June 4-6 in Washington D.C.  On the heels of the Bush Administration, there was great hope that President Obama could at least establish the U.S. as an honest broker in Cyprus.  If he wrestles some real concessions from Turkey over the next month on Cyprus, he may have a chance at a peace that has eluded seven Presidents before him.

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