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2002-10-07 16:50:04

The Cyprus Question- October 2002

"The EU is determined to admit Cyprus as a member with enlargment in 2004. The only fly in the ointment is that the eastern Mediterranean island is politically and physically divided and to embrace what is effectively only the Greek Cypriot south withtout a reunification agreement with the Turkish-controlled north of the island is potentially explosive

The admission of a divided island would sour the EU's relations with Turkey, a vital NATO ally. If Cyprus joins the EU with the unification issue still open, the Ankara government will have to respond politically and possibly militarily. On the other hand, if there are any delays in admitting Cyprus, Greece will veto other nations joining the EuropeanUnion.

That's why two old political rivals have been meeting twice and three times a week in the divided capital Nicosia since the betinning of the year to try to find a solution to this decades-old dispute. Rauf Denktash, the seventy-seven-year-old Turkish Cypriot leader, and eighty-three-year-old Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot president, face unprecedented international pressurre to reunite the island.

The dispute dates back to inter-communal clashes between 1960, when the island gained independence from the United Kingdom, and 1974, when Turkey invaded and took control of the north of the island in reaction to an attempt by Greek Cypriots to force the island into union with Greece.

The Turkish Cypriots want recognition for their internationally shanned state in the north of the island, while the Greek Cypriots refuse to legitimize the occupation in this way. Clerides insists Cyprus should be reunited as a federal state, rather than as a "partnership" of two equal entities, as Dnktash demands.

The situation is serious enough to warrant Kofi Annan visiting Cyprus in May, the first visit by a UN secretary general since 1979. His goal was to try to persuade the two leaders, whose talks, which have been apparently fruitless, to work toward an agreement on the general principles for a federated Cypriot republic.

Denktash is also under pressure from Ankara because of the fierce debate within Turkey on whether to put its EU aspirations at risk over Cyprus.

Nonetheless, the Turkish government has declared that "Denktash is not alone" in the face of EU pressure.

You would think that the last thing the EU needs is to inherit the Cyprus problem.Yet EU officials are sounding very hard-line, insisting-as Commission President Romano Prode did during a visit to the Greek side of the island late last year- that the EU will not be held hostage by political intransigence by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. As the Denktash deadline approaches, the dangers will increase.

Though in public they appear no nearer to resolving the core issue, some insiders say that the two old men are making progress and that some face-saving formula will emerge before year-end that will enable announcement of Cypriot accession without a political explosion in the region.

A lot of people are holding their breath."

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