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Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet
Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

This video presents Crisis Group Europe Report 194, "Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet". 

Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

This video presents Crisis Group Europe Report 194, "Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet".  CRISIS GROUP
Report 194 / Europe & Central Asia

Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

A new peace process in Cyprus offers the best opportunity in decades to solve the intractable division of the island. The turnabout is largely due to the surprise election of Demetris Christofias to the Greek Cypriot presidency. He, together with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, are demonstrating political will to make the current UN-mediated talks succeed.

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Executive Summary

A new peace process in Cyprus offers the best opportunity in decades to solve the intractable division of the island. The turnabout is largely due to the surprise election of Demetris Christofias to the Greek Cypriot presidency. He, together with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, are demonstrating political will to make the current UN-mediated talks succeed. Key players like Turkey are being constructive. The outside world, particularly the UN and European Union (EU), needs to fully engage in support of a comprehensive settlement that will improve Cypriot security and prosperity, free Turkey to continue its movement into Europe and overcome a problem that is increasingly damaging to EU policy in the region and beyond.

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Since their first meeting on 21 March 2008, Christofias and Talat have opened a new crossing at Ledra Street in the capital, Nicosia, and made solid progress in preparatory talks. In a joint statement on 23 May, they committed to establishing a bicommunal, bizonal federation as a partnership with a single international identity and two equal Constituent States. The presidents are expected to meet again on 1 July and announce agreement on measures to improve bicommunal coordination in health, road safety and the environment. Either then or at the latest in mid-July, they should press forward and announce a 1 September 2008 start for full-fledged negotiations.

Both sides know this is only a beginning, but that it could be the last chance for reunification for the foreseeable future. Several dynamics encouraging partition have emerged since the Annan Plan was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek Cypriots in 2004 referendums. Failure in these negotiations would trigger a cycle of vengeful politics and mistrust on the island; further complicate EU-Turkey and EU-NATO relations; make the Cyprus problem a permanent irritant in the heart of the EU; and, if the 2007 rhetoric over Cypriot oil prospecting was an indication, bring new military tensions to the island.

In the run-up to and during the full-fledged talks, working groups and technical committees should continue to meet to develop options for the leaders to discuss. Momentum must be maintained. Sceptics and nationalists on both sides are waiting for opportunities to derail the talks. Indeed, criticism of the process from the former hardline leaders, Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot president who lost his re-election bid in February 2008, and Rauf Denktash, for decades the Turkish Cypriot strongman, underlines how committed Christofias and Talat are to reaching a solution.

The position of Turkey is crucial, given its geographic proximity, large garrison on the island and extensive support for the Turkish Cypriot administration. The ruling AK Party government is supporting the settlement process as it did in 2004, and the foreign ministry says it is determined to reach a solution. The Turkish military is sticking to its 2004 acceptance of troop withdrawals in return for the right deal and has been constructive so far. The Turkish Cypriots say they have Ankara’s full backing to reach agreement along the well-established UN parameters. Chances of success would be higher if there was less internal political turmoil in Turkey due to the court case against the AK Party, but domestic disputes do not rule out progress on Cyprus.

Distrust between Greek Cypriots and Turkey is a key obstacle. Ankara remains suspicious of the Greek Cypriots’ intentions, despite a turnabout in their position under Christofias, and Greek Cypriots remain convinced that Turkey is insincere and unreliable. These two parties barely know each other, having not talked for 40 years, and are all too ready to believe extremist rhetoric in nationalist media. Ankara should communicate with Greek Cypriots, even as it refuses to recognise their government as representing all interests on the island, just as Greek Cypriots should work more willingly with the longstanding Turkish Cypriot administrative structures. EU states and other external parties can facilitate better communication.

The UN Secretary-General should appoint a new high-level special adviser to facilitate the full-fledged talks and ensure that all regional and other international players are fully informed and supportive. The EU, which risks real damage to many areas of policy if the Greek Cypriot-Turkish relationship breaks down, must engage more with the process, including making preparations now for financial instruments to support any settlement.

The economy and security of both communities on Cyprus, as well as Turkey, would significantly benefit from the right comprehensive settlement under the EU roof. As they work for difficult compromises, all should move beyond painful memories and past distrust to focus on this goal.

Nicosia/Istanbul/Brussels, 23 June 2008