Greece and Turkey have stepped back from the brink of military confrontation over gas exploration in disputed waters in the Mediterranean Sea. But trouble still looms. European leaders should welcome signs of conciliation from Athens and Ankara and nudge them toward talks.
Expectations for next month’s high-level talks on resolving longstanding conflict remained tempered. Ahead of five-plus-one talks – which will include UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – scheduled for 27-29 April in Geneva, sides remained far apart on desired outcomes: Turkey/Turkish Cypriots favour solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greece/Republic of Cyprus continue to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Turkish President Erdoğan 19 March called for debate around new and realistic options “instead of dictating to the sides past models that have proven to be unsuccessful”. Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel 8 March signed Memorandum of Understanding on project to establish new energy grid transporting electricity from Israel-Cyprus to Europe through Greece; Ankara 16 March issued verbal note requesting information and that its approval be sought for “works in areas within [Turkey’s] continental shelf”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile. Progress in the Cyprus talks is more important than ever”.
To avoid another failed effort at federal reunification in the new round of Cyprus negotiations, all sides should break old taboos and discuss all possible options, including independence for Turkish Cypriots within the European Union.
Though newly discovered gas reserves off Cyprus are currently driving the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities further apart, they could offer both newfound wealth if, together with Turkey, they would start a new dialogue.
To capitalise on twelve years of normalisation, and at a time when both could benefit from a foreign policy success, Greece and Turkey should settle their expensive, outdated and stressful stand-off over Aegean Sea maritime zones and related issues.
With stalemate looming in the UN-sponsored Cyprus reunification negotiations, parties to the dispute need to take dramatic, unilateral steps to break the decades-long distrust that is suffocating them.
Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean will remain hostage to full settlement of the Cyprus dispute, but the property issue – one of its most intractable knots – can be solved now if Greek and Turkish Cypriots compromise on new proposals currently before them.
Three decades of efforts to reunify Cyprus are about to end, leaving a stark choice ahead between a hostile, de facto partition of the island and a collaborative federation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities living in two constituent states.
Originally published in Transatlantic Academy
Originally published in The Majalla
Originally published in IP Journal