NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL, JANUARY 7, 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES-EDITORIAL
January 7, 2003
Ending the Conflict in Cyprus
The divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, long contorted by tensions between Turkey and Greece, can look forward to a more promising future if the Turkish Cypriot leadership accepts a United Nations peace plan. Under the plan, already welcomed by the Greek side, a united Cyprus could join the European Union next year. That would benefit Cypriots from both communities and open the way for early Turkish admission to the union. If the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, succeeds in blocking the agreement, the pain and unfairness of Cyprus's armed partition could be locked in for years to come.
Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots favors the U.N. plan. Last month tens of thousands of them took to the streets demanding its acceptance. As important, the Turkish political leadership in Ankara on which Mr. Denktash's power ultimately depends is also pressing for a swift negotiated settlement. Unfortunately, Mr. Denktash refuses to get the message. Concerted diplomatic pressure, including Washington's, is needed to end his destructive opposition.
The obvious basis for a solution is a plan proposed by the U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan. It provides for a loose confederation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, with the presidency rotating between them and refugees from the 1974 fighting that divided the island eventually being allowed to reclaim their homes or receive compensation. Glafcos Clerides, now running for re-election as president of the Greek sector, has accepted this plan as the basis for a negotiated compromise. But Mr. Denktash remains opposed. The U.N. has a deadline of Feb. 28 for both sides to reach agreement. Mr. Annan's plan may not be perfect, but rejecting it would be a worse alternative for both Cypriot communities.
One important new element is the changed position of Ankara. For years Turkey's political and military establishment unswervingly supported Mr. Denktash. In a welcome change, the leader of Turkey's new ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, forcefully criticized Mr. Denktash last week for ignoring his constituents' desire for a negotiated peace. This enlightened stand demonstrates how far Mr. Erdogan has moved from the narrowly Islamist politics he emphasized earlier in his career. When Ankara speaks, Mr. Denktash needs to listen. Only a few weeks remain to help him recognize this truth.