Alan Berlind

It is hard to read the daily press coverage of the Greek financial crisis and the increasingly ugly public bickering between officials of the leftist regime in Athens and the conservative guardians of fiscal responsibility at the European Union without wondering how they can all keep a straight face while pretending that money is all that counts. This is not the space and this blogger not the man for a close and expert examination of the financial arguments put forward by the debtor and creditor. Leaving that to The Economist (April 25) and others, let us take a look at the political game being played on all sides and the very serious consequences of failure to reach a deal that (a) subjects neither Greece nor its current leadership to shame and poverty, that (b) saves face as well for national leaders in Germany, France and elsewhere, that (c) preserves full membership in the Eurogroup as currently constituted, that (d) enhances the position of the EU itself as a major actor on the world stage, and that (e) offers no gifts to either Russia or Turkey. The United States stands to gain from such a result and lose considerably from failure.

There is no question but that Greece has experienced a long run of domestic political turmoil responsible in large part for the economic hole in which it finds itself today, beginning a half-century ago with the military coup d’état of April 21, 1967. It must be added at once, however, that acquiescence followed by more active support in Washington back then and over the succeeding seven years was a welcome gift to those seeking to deal a death blow to democracy in its birthplace. As it had been since the end of WWII, the US was the major source of foreign influence in NATO member Greece, but President Lyndon Johnson slapped the new “government” of colonels on the wrist with a mild reduction in military aid and turned the other way, and successor Richard Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, was more than comfortable having a military dictatorship as an ally for another four years. In 1974, however, those colonels, with no apparent objection from their American fans, tried to incorporate independent Cyprus into the Hellenic homeland. Reacting swiftly, the Turks invaded and left more than 30,000 Turkish troops in place, still in place today as a more enlightened US administration works hard to forge agreement among Turkey and the two ethnic Cypriot communities on an independent, non-occupied bi-zonal federation.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen makes a strong argument for a reasonable compromise between unreasonable senior financial negotiators from Greece, the stressed but combative debtor nation, and other EU and Eurozone nations seemingly bent on punishing a noisy leftist government unable to repay excessive loans. Cohen wrote on April 24: “Despite a brutal fiscal adjustment, the fact remains that Greece’s debt is not repayable …. At some point there must be debt forgiveness; the cost of stupid loans has to be recognized. Or there may be a Greek default. The worst outcome for Europe would be a Greek exit from the euro. Joining the shared currency, for all the nations in it, was an ‘irrevocable’ decision. Once one country goes, the whole edifice wobbles. Markets are not sentimental about probing weakness. The constant question will be, ‘Who’s next?’ “

It is crystal clear that the question of overriding concern in Cohen’s view is the future of Europe rather than the angry, spiteful bickering over who’s to blame mentioned at the start. As he convincingly puts it, Europe today is “a borderless market of more than half a billion people between whom war has become impossible …. a continent where entitlements including universal health care are seen not as socialist indulgence but basic humanity …. it (Europe) has delivered peace above all, prosperity however frayed, and freedom to former inmates of the Soviet imperium. It has also created an awareness of European identity that falls short of European patriotism but is nonetheless a counterweight to the primal nationalism that stained the continent with so much blood”.

Whether it is Greece, the Eurozone, the EU itself or the US that stands to benefit most from a halt in the warfare that has driven the negotiations underground, there is a new light at the end of the tunnel: the recent news from Athens that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reorganized his team so as to remove Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis from the negotiating table without relieving him of his policy responsibilities. It is to be hoped that tempers will no longer override diplomacy at the table and threaten all parties with a result that serves nobody. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

We welcome your comments!

An Unhappy Anniversary for Cyprus

By: Julia Jacovides

The town of Varosha (located near Famagusta in the north of Cyprus) has been abandoned since 1974. It used to be a major tourist attraction but is now a ghost town.
The town of Varosha (located near Famagusta in the north of Cyprus) has been abandoned since 1974. It used to be a major tourist attraction but is now a ghost town.

In a tiny corner of the eastern Mediterranean lies the island of Cyprus. Beautiful, welcoming, and gloriously sunny at this time of year, it commemorates an unfortunate anniversary this week. Forty years ago, a military coup temporarily replaced the Greek Cypriot president with a man who wanted Cyprus to join Greece. In response, Turkish forces invaded the island (nominally) to protect their Turkish Cypriot brothers. They established a new region in the north that, to this day, only Turkey recognizes. Four decades and several failed peace processes later, the island remains starkly divided between a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south. For many,the division has become exhausting and the lack of a solution disheartening. In the words of Alexis Galanos – mayor-in-exile of Famagusta, a town which lies partly in the demilitarized zone – the time to find a resolution is running out. Continue reading

Cyprus in the News – but Where?

By: Alan Berlind

The most senior and most important American visitor to Cyprus in half a century, Vice-President Joseph Biden, arrived in the country on May 21. In public statements – and surely in his meetings with Cypriot officials – Biden made absolutely clear the United States’ position concerning the matter of sovereignty and the country’s importance to the United States, both in general terms and with respect to its role as a strategic partner in the future of energy production and distribution. That Biden had by his side a senior U.S. energy official underscored the last point. Continue reading



Alan D. Berlind

The recent post by this inattentive blogger (“A CYPRUS SOLUTION”) named various political and geographical entities that have substantial interests in the success of the discussions underway between the two Cypriot communities aimed at re-uniting them under a single sovereign banner:  Cyprus herself, the United States, Turkey, Israel and the European Union, with special mention of France and Italy.  One might have included Russia but did not, principally because its national interests did not seem to be obviously at play.  Wrong! Continue reading



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.



“The protests come at an awkward time for the US, which is trying to convince the international community that governments in Syria and Iran do not respect the rights of their citizens while the Turkish-backed rebels in Syria represent a more democratic alternative.” This comment, appearing in a distressing report (The Guardian, June 4, 2013) on Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s totally undemocratic and ferocious reaction to public protests in Istanbul and elsewhere in his country, is on the mark but addresses just one of the possible consequences of that reaction.  That fact was surely on the mind of both Secretary of State John Kerry and White House spokesman Jay Carney when they publicly and rightly expressed concern.

The past several months have seen multiple developments opening hope for solutions to an array of extremely difficult problems all of which both require Turkish cooperation and are of more than marginal importance to U.S. national security.  For starters, the resolution of the long and bloody conflict in Syria in favor of the emergence of a democratic regime cannot but help strengthen and advance the “Arab Spring”, and the role of a democratic Turkey in such an outcome cannot be exaggerated, given its actions thus far in helping and protecting Assad’s opponents and victims and its vast superiority, both economic and military, in the region.

Without suggesting any order of priority or predicting final outcomes, one cannot under-estimate the importance of the seeming end of the sharp deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel that began with their 2009 confrontation at sea. Any chance for a meaningful resolution of differences between these two key allies of the U.S. depends on democratic policies on the part of both, particularly with respect to treatment of minorities, be they religious, ethnic or cultural.  The reigning governments in both countries have far to go, with Erdogan posing the greatest threat with his latest words and actions.

Likewise, hopes for an end to the decades-old Turkish armed occupation of a large part of Cyprus will surely fade should the dictatorial methods employed by Erdogan place one more weapon – in addition to religious and cultural prejudice – in the hands of those Europeans opposed to Turkish membership in the European Union.  In any case, peaceful settlement of the Cyprus issue of course remains the sine qua non with respect to Turkish entry, with EU member Cyprus having a full vote.  And settlement of  the  Cyprus issue surely must precede exploitation of apparently very rich off-shore oil resources in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone, in which both Israel, Lebanon and the U.S. are heavily involved, notwithstanding the start of exploratory drilling  by the American firm Noble Energy.

One further complication: Russia, while continuing to flirt with Syria’s President Assad, has seemingly freed herself from dependence upon a Syrian port, until now her only Mediterranean haven for warships, with the recent announcement that three such vessels will lay over in the Cypriot port of Limassol in the near future.  This public display of support for the Cypriot Republic, already recognized by Moscow and every nation on earth other than Turkey, gives the Turks one more thing to think about.

There was a ray of hope in the public apology for the heavy crack-down on protesters in Istanbul and elsewhere offered by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister on June 4 as his boss took a quick leave of absence elsewhere, and President Gul has made clear his own unhappiness over Erdogan’s actions.  Erdogan, however, has shown no sign of backing down.   Nevertheless, given the multiple issues raised by the events in Turkey briefly summarized above, the U.S. must continue to play an active diplomatic role in the interests of protecting its own national security.


  The heralded and most welcome rapprochement between American friends and allies Turkey and Israel will need, as is normal, some time before it bears fruit.  As reported from Ankara by the Associated Press on March 24, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been cautious in presenting his agreement with Israeli counterpart Netanyahu to his domestic constituency, along the lines of “actions speak louder than words”.  (At the same time, Netanyahu has been sharply attacked for apologizing for the 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla by his former Foreign Minister Lieberman.)  There is nothing remarkable about a leader protecting himself at home from charges of weakness in dealing with “the enemy”, and Erdogan’s announced intention to visit Gaza and the West Bank in the near future need not upset the substance of the agreement.  Let us hope that is so but not disregard the warning signals in the AP report, worth repeating here in full.

          QUOTE:  Associated Press ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested “normalization” of ties with Israel would take time, hinting that Turkey wanted to ensure the victims of a flotilla raid were compensated and Israel remained committed to the easing of restrictions of goods to Gaza before restoring relations.

Erdogan’s comments on Sunday came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Turkish leader to apologize for the botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. Erdogan accepted the apology and both leaders said they would begin the work of restoring full relations.

But in a public address Sunday, Erdogan suggested there would be no quick restoration of ties.

“We have said: ‘an apology will be made, compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these,” he said. “Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry.”

The statement was largely seen as effort to ease concerns of his religious and pro-Palestinian support. Erdogan has won praise both at home and the Arab world for his criticism of Israel and for breaking off ties with the Jewish state over the flotilla raid.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies but relations began to decline after Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003. Erdogan has embarked on a campaign to make Turkey a regional powerhouse in an attempt to become a leading voice in the Muslim world, distanced from Israel.

Animosity increased after the flotilla incident and ambassadors were later withdrawn. Netanyahu had previously refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Israel lifted most restrictions on the import of goods into Gaza following the flotilla incident and only restrictions on some construction materials and most exports remain in effect.

During Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, Netanyahu said Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza and the Palestinian territories and this would continue as long as “calm prevailed.”

But Israeli military officials have taken to punishing Gaza residents for breaches of a November truce. Since Thursday, in response to militant rocket fire from the territory, all movement through a civilian crossing between Gaza and Israel was cancelled, except for humanitarian cases. Gaza fishermen had their permitted fishing territory restricted and a commercial goods crossing was shut down, according to Israeli rights group, Gisha.

Netanyahu said Saturday concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile were the motivating factor in restoring ties with Turkey. He said the two countries, which border Syria, needed to communicate with each other over the issue.

Meanwhile, Erdogan said he plans to travel to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank “within the month, in April.”  END QUOTE

     Where do the other parties named in the title of this post fit in?  Turkey has occupied some 40% of Cyprus going on 40 years, proclaiming the existence of a “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.  Such an entity has never been recognized by any country in the world, Israel, Russia, all EU members and the US prominent among those that have refused.  In May 2012, Turkish jet fighters challenged an Israeli plane hovering near a gas and oil exploration region off of Cyprus, a challenge based on Turkish defense of the “rights” of the fictional republic.  A year later, Turkey continues to challenge the right of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus to explore for energy resources in its exclusive economic zone, an exercise it has been conducting in cooperation with American, Israeli and other partners.  Moreover, it has been reliably reported that Russia, which currently supplies EU countries with well more than a third of their gas supplies, has been pressuring the Cypriots to let the Russian gas giant “Gazprom” into the bidding as the price of helping Cyprus out of its desperate financial dilemma.  Figures indicate that the exploitation of Cypriot gas by, among others, French and American companies could potentially reduce the EU’s dependency on Russian supplies.

     According to the French newspaper Le Monde of March 23, the Russians have been making another, equally important, proposal to the Cypriots in exchange for Russian financial help: the provision of a naval base for Russian warships.  With continued use of Syrian port facilities out of the question, Russia will be left with no berthing or basing rights in the Mediterranean, leaving Cyprus as the only feasible option.  (This scenario was hinted at, perhaps foreshadowed, in a post of July 23, 2012 headlined “Cyprus, Russia, Syria, America, the EU, Turkey et al”, which reported the docking of two Russian Black Sea Fleet warships in the Cypriot port of Limassol – and not, it must be mentioned, in the Turkish-occupied port of Famagusta.)


After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!