A CYPRUS SOLUTION
by Alan D. Berlind
Forty years after an attempted Greek coup was met with a Turkish invasion that seized some 40% of the Republic of Cyprus and left some 40,000 Turkish troops on the island, there are signs that a reunification may be in the cards, reportedly with active backing from Washington for reasons strategic, political and commercial. Several other countries have more than a passing interest in a resolution of this long-standing problem, from which the European Union (EU) as a body would also profit.
A brief history is in order, if only because “rethinking national security” must include acknowledging the past along with planning the future. The Greek coup attempt of 1974 was the work of a Greek military/police regime that had seized power in 1967 with the lame excuse of pre-empting election of a leftist government in Athens. That takeover had met with minimal disapproval – a cut in military assistance – from the government of President Lyndon Johnson and none from the latter’s successor, Richard Nixon, or his chief foreign policy guru, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. Nevertheless, the regime was losing strength by 1974, which it hoped to recover by incorporating Cyprus into the Greek state. Turkey, not about to see the Turkish-Cypriot minority swallowed up by its Aegean enemy, did not wait long to send in the troops. The British Foreign Secretary at the time, James Callaghan, has written that he tried but could not get Kissinger, by then his counter-part, on the phone to discuss the problem. The latter, we were to understand, was just too busy with various tasks following Nixon’s resignation in disgrace to devote time to Cyprus.
A proposed settlement, labeled the “Annan Plan” after United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was put to a vote in Cyprus in 2004 but was overwhelmingly and vengefully, defeated by Greek-Cypriots comfortable with the fact that Cyprus had already been assured entry into the EU regardless of the outcome, while Turkish-Cypriots voted in favor. Over the succeeding decade, a determination by leaders of both communities to try again, combined with a perception of hard national interests in several other countries and persistent diplomatic efforts from various quarters, not least among them the current administration in the United States (U.S.), has led to agreement on new negotiations between the two Cypriot communities aimed at the restoration of a single universally-recognized sovereign state, with issues of domestic governance to be agreed between the two parties.
Of those “hard national interests” mentioned above, none is more important than the additional and alternative sources of energy being pursued world-wide and the discovery beneath the waters in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone of potentially massive supplies of natural gas, for either export (sale) by pipeline as is to nearby markets or by container as liquefied natural gas (LNG) further abroad. Following exploration and findings by the American firm Noble Energy, a tri-partite Memorandum of Understanding has been executed with Total of France and Eni of Italy foreseeing joint exploitation and the establishment of a plant in Cyprus for the production of LNG. Initial exploration has also revealed the existence of gas beneath waters shared by Cyprus and Israel, opening up the possibility of sales to energy-poor Turkey and an improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations, which have been in a parlous state for five years.
No less important than the resource question, the sine qua non of Turkish EU membership, still being pursued by Ankara, is the end of Turkish occupation of EU-member state Cyprus. That the Turks understand this was best stated in an interview by Turkish Ambassador to Athens Kerim Uras: “The key to solving the Cyprus problem is natural resources and the key to the candidacy of Turkey to the EU is the solution of the Cyprus problem.” Of course one cannot rule out Turkish tactical tinkering with the process to the very end as Ankara assesses the benefits of EU accession and weighs the importance of opposition thereto on clearly ethnic grounds within France, Germany, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. EU membership aside, Greek-Turkish relations in general and disputes over longstanding Aegean issues in particular cannot but be eased by success in the Cyprus negotiations. Nevertheless, those Aegean issues raise the matter of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), signed by all EU members and the EU itself (the only non-state party), but rejected most prominently by Turkey and Israel, the former owing to UNCLOS’ full support of the Greek positions in the Aegean. (The Israeli position is unrelated.)
On the diplomatic front, the U.S. Department of State has apparently been leading the way, with a recent visit to Nicosia by Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland and another by Secretary John Kerry rumored for this Spring. Clearly, President Barack Obama has been convinced that a Cyprus settlement would serve the interests of the U.S. and its friends and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. Most important, however, has been the apparent determination on both sides of the Cypriot divide and in the capitals of their Greek and Turkish champions to find a mutually acceptable formula for unity. Leading the way have been Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish-Cypriot opposite number, Dervis Eroglu. Leaving aside the unhelpful but normal partisan griping on both sides, the level of mutual understanding can be seen in the recent announcement that the chief negotiators will be visiting and conferring with the most interested outside governments this month: the Greek-Cypriot negotiator in Ankara, and his Turkish-Cypriot opposite number in Athens.
An agreement will take time but is in the works, and all interested parties stand to benefit substantially if Cypriots and Turks and Greeks, having learned from the past, succeed in launching a new era of cooperation and progress.