» Home    » Cyprus Timeline    » Contact Us    » Links

Embassy News

2003-05-01 16:57:38

(Senate - April 29, 2003)

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to commend the Republic of Cyprus on its April 16 signing of an accession agreement with the European Union, and also to bemoan the failure to reach an agreement to end the nearly three-decade-old division of the island.

The achievement of accession to the European Union marks the last phase of a 30-year enterprise by the Government and people of the Republic of Cyprus, which began with an Association Agreement in 1973 and will culminate in May 2004 with full membership.

Celebration of this historic success, however, is tempered by the absence of a settlement that would have allowed the island as a whole to join the EU. The failure of the parties to reach an agreement through the United Nations process was both regrettable and avoidable.

Although the Cyprus problem has been on the United Nations agenda for almost 40 years, it was the Clinton administration's decision in 1999 to make finding a solution in Cyprus a high priority that brought the two sides of the island back to proximity talks under the good offices of the United Nations Secretary General.

Since 1999, Secretary General Kofi Annan and his special representative Alvaro de Soto have engaged interested parties in an intensive peace effort with international support, including that of U.S. Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Tom Weston. They worked feverishly with leaders in Nicosia, Athens, Ankara, and Brussels to try to persuade the parties to agree to a draft plan prior to the European Union summit in Copenhagen last December, at which the EU invited Cyprus and nine other countries to join the Union. While that effort did not produce an equitable end to the tragic division of Cyprus, it did produce a realistic framework and concrete text on which to continue discussions to resolve the remaining issues.

After years of frustration and disappointment, the people of Cyprus saw a fragile but real possibility for settlement, and the overwhelming majority of the population in both communities embraced the process.

In the first months of 2003, with the clock running out to reach an agreement before the date for Cyprus to sign the EU accession agreement, the UN Secretary General asked Tassos Papadopoulos, the newly-elected President of the Republic of Cyprus, and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to submit the plan to a public referendum. On March 10, Mr. Papadopoulos in good faith conditionally agreed to do so. Mr. Denktash refused.

In response, tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets to express their support for the UN plan and to entreat Mr. Denktash to participate in the process. But Mr. Denktash did not respond to these calls from the citizens whom he nominally represents. In denying his own people a democratic vote, he bears the primary responsibility for quashing the peace talks.

Since then, Mr. Denktash has chosen to discredit the UN process though overheated rhetoric, calling the UN plan ``full of tricks'' and alleging that it did not take into account the non-negotiable requirements and ``realities'' of the Turkish Cypriot people. He did for the first time allow day-visits across the ``Green Line'' that divides the island, but this welcome conciliatory gesture appears to be more of a diversionary tactic than a return to the negotiating table.

The Turkish Cypriots do have genuine concerns about their status and security, and these concerns must be reflected in any settlement decision. The Greek Cypriots need to acknowledge that before 1974 there was a Cyprus Problem and that members of both communities committed unpardonable violence and murder. Similarly, the Turkish Cypriots need to acknowledge that there has been a Cyprus Problem ever since the Turkish invasion of 1974, with mass human suffering. Both sides must recognize that this is 2003, not 1974 or 1964, and that only a reunited Cyprus as a member of the European Union would have ironclad, international security guarantees for all its citizens.

Yet Mr. Denktash seems incapable of seizing the moment by recognizing that a negotiated settlement requires compromise. As Secretary General Annan stated in his report to the UN Security Council, however, ``except for a very few instances, Mr. Denktash by and large declined to engage in negotiation on the basis of give and take,'' thereby complicating efforts ``to accommodate not only the legitimate concerns of principle, but also the concrete and practical interests of the Turkish Cypriots.''

The window for achieving a settlement is not closed. Secretary General Annan's plan remains on the table as a basis for negotiation. The European Union has affirmed that there is a place in the EU for Turkish Cypriots. Upon the signing of the accession treaty, Cypriot President Papadopoulos restated his commitment to working toward a settlement. Greek Prime Minister and EU Council Term President Simitis invited Mr. Denktash and other Turkish Cypriot political leaders to Nicosia to continue discussions toward a settlement, an invitation which Mr. Denktash to date has rejected. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, with an eye toward his own country's future EU membership once Ankara has met the Copenhagen criteria, endorsed on April 17 the continuation of talks based on the UN plan. I hope that Prime Minister Erdogan, Foreign Minister Gul, and other distinguished leaders in Turkey will prevail on Mr. Denktash to do what is right for all in the region. EU leaders at the April 16 accession ceremony in Athens declared that the expanded EU represents a ``common determination to put an end to centuries of conflict and transcend former divisions.'' The people in northern Cyprus should not be barred from ``the closer ties of neighborhood'' described by European Commission President Prodi. Nor should they be excluded from the opportunity, now extended to their fellow-citizens in the south, to join the world's most powerful economic association. A lasting settlement would allow the Turkish Cypriot people to emerge from their isolation and become fully a part of Europe. It would bring opportunities for economic growth, for expanded trade, for travel and for broader educational and cross-cultural exchanges. And it would end the second-class citizenship of the Turkish Cypriot people in which their standard of living is at best one-third that of the people in the south.

If Mr. Denktash does indeed have the interests of the people of northern Cyprus at heart, he should step aside and allow the Turkish Cypriot people to choose their own future. There is too much at stake to allow another opportunity to expire.

Printer Friendly Page