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.
Prospects for relaunching UN talks remained dim amid gap between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on one hand and Greece and Greek Cypriots on the other. UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Jane Holl Lute throughout month met relevant stakeholders to lay foundations for relaunching UN-sponsored talks. Lute 1 Dec met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who spoke in favour of restarting talks but stressed that federal solution – on which talks in past were based – had not led to any result and that “it [was] time for a solution to be based on sovereign equality; where there are two states co-existing side by side”. Following 16 Dec meeting with Lute in Ankara, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu echoed sentiment, tweeting that “federation project is no longer sustainable. In line with realities on island, Turkish side promotes two-state settlement based on equal sovereignty”. In contrast, following meetings with Lute, Greek Cypriot officials 1 Dec and Greek officials 2 Dec reiterated position that talks should resume where they left off in previous round. In “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, PM Ersan Saner 9 Dec formed new govt following fall of previous one in Oct.
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and at a time when both could benefit from a foreign policy success, Greece and Turkey should settle their expensive, outdated and stressful stand-off over Aegean Sea maritime zones and related issues.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