With stalemate looming in the UN-sponsored Cyprus reunification negotiations, parties to the dispute need to take dramatic, unilateral steps to break the decades-long distrust that is suffocating them.
Cyprus: Six Steps toward a Settlement , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses the causes and implications of the diplomatic slowdown and concludes that an early breakthrough is unlikely. It urges Turkey and Greek and Turkish Cypriots to take confidence-building steps in 2011 unilaterally rather than as a complex negotiated package. This would build trust, satisfy key demands, open communication without prejudging the outcome of UN talks, and support a comprehensive settlement. The European Union (EU), especially the European Commission and EU Presidency, should continue as honest broker between the parties, and member states should avoid partisan statements.
“Neither Greek Cypriots nor Turkish Cypriots can fulfill their potential on an island whose future is divided, uncertain, militarised and facing new economic difficulties”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “Interim measures are necessary now, because the UN-facilitated talks look set for another non-productive year”.
The Mediterranean island of 1.1 million people has been divided politically since Greek Cypriots seized control of the Republic of Cyprus in 1963, and militarily since a Turkish invasion in 1974 created a Turkish Cypriot zone on its northern third. Four decades on, the sides remain far apart even on the meaning of the negotiations’ agreed objective: a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Although there has long been peace, and a relative freedom to interact since 2003, trade and visits between the two communities across the Green Line are decreasing, reflecting popular cynicism toward the prospects of reunification.
This briefing shows how it is in the best interests of all parties to break the logjam now. Greek Cypriots must stop blocking the negotiating chapters for Turkey’s accession agreement with the EU, permit EU-monitored trade from the Turkish Cypriots’ port of Famagusta and allow charter flights, monitored by the EU, to Ercan Airport in the Turkish Cypriot zone. Turkey should open its air and seaports and airspace to Greek Cypriot traffic. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots should return property in the Turkish-military controlled ghost resort of Varosha to Greek Cypriot owners under an interim UN administration.
Above all, Turkey and the Greek Cypriots must talk directly. A simple first step would be for Greek Cypriots to encourage Greece to invite the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator to brief officials in Athens, and for Turkey to invite the Greek Cypriot chief negotiator to brief officials in Ankara. To build transparency and confidence on the island, the two Cypriot sides should agree to an island-wide census, while all parties should put in place a mechanism to verify troop numbers, for now and for any future drawdown.
“Continuation of Cyprus’s division and the suffocation of Turkey’s EU accession process are profoundly negative for the region”, explains Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director, Sabine Freizer. “Interim steps now offer the best chance for EU institutions and member states to improve EU-NATO institutional cooperation, secure ties with a rising regional power and gain full access to Europe’s fastest-growing economy”.