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Briefing Paper : Momentum on Cyprus: New Plans to Heal Rift


NICOSIA, Cyprus — The News:

After a lapse of activity during the Persian Gulf crisis, all sides are making fresh moves on the problem of Cyprus, an island country divided for more than 15 years between its Greek and Turkish communities.

Turkish President Turgut Ozal is promoting four-party political talks among Greece, Turkey and the leaders of the two Cypriot sides. The Greek and Cyprus governments have countered with a formula for a wider conference: the five members of the U.N. Security Council, Athens, Ankara, the Cypriot government and representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. While neither plan has been accepted, even their emergence indicates momentum towards solving--or at least agreeing on a method of resolving--one of the world's most intractable political problems.

Last week, Nelson Ledsky, the State Department troubleshooter on Cyprus, visited Ankara, Athens and Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, trying to nudge the two sides towards identifying areas of possible compromise. President Bush, in a White House meeting with Cypriot President George Vassiliou last month, said Washington wants to be a catalyst for movement. Secretary of State James A. Baker III presumably delivered the same message to Rauf Dentash, leader of the Turkish Cypriots, in a separate meeting.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, under whose aegis talks between the factions take place, has said an "outline agreement is possible in a few months."

No direct talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been held in more than a year, and none are definitely scheduled. But the players are talking about talks again, and at a time when major powers are pressing to get disputes of past decades resolved.

The Background:

Antagonism between the 540,000 Greek Cypriots and 125,000 Turkish Cypriots-- co-habitants of the Mediterranean's third-largest island, but divided by culture, religion (Christian and Muslim) and language (Greek and Turkish)--goes back decades, at least to the violent enosis movement of the 1950s which sought political union between Greece and Cyprus. Independence from Britain in 1960 and the presidency of Archbishop Makarios of the Greek Orthodox Church did little to abate the suspicion and ill feelings.

Constitutional power-sharing between the two sides broke down in the early 1960s, intercommunal fighting resumed and, in 1964, the United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force, the progenitor of the 2,000-man UNICYP command that now patrols a 112-mile-long buffer zone separating Greeks and Turks on the island.

The U.N. continued to play an important role in Cypriot affairs, keeping talks between the two sides going despite the bitter legacies of 1974. That was the year of the abortive pro-Greece coup, followed days later by an invasion from the Turkish mainland, which completed the division of the island. Greek Cypriots left the north and Turkish Cypriots fled the south. Cyprus was split by the U.N. Green Line, minefields and political intransigence on both sides. A large Turkish army deployed in the north, where it remains today.

In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots declared the territory controlled by Turkish soldiers as the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus under Denktash. Only Turkey has recognized the putative state. The Republic of Cyprus, based in the Greek half of divided Nicosia and headed by Vassilou, is the internationally recognized government and a member of the United Nations.

What's Been Accomplished:

Over the long years of U.N.-promoted talks, differences have been narrowed on a number of issues that could restore the Republic of Cyprus under one roof. And Vassiliou pledged to press face-to-face talks with Denktash in search of a solution. Before the the Gulf crisis, the two leaders met repeatedly, holding more than 100 hours of talks under U.N. sponsorship.

Vassiliou and his predecessors have given ground grudgingly but steadily on the Turkish Cypriot demand for a bi-zonal government, one that would separate the two communities territorially. The Greeks had initially floated plans for a more mixed, cantonal system. Some hard-liners still favor a return to the pre-independence governments, which gave Turkish Cypriots a portion of power.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriots under Denktash have practically forsaken any hope for their proclaimed independent state in the north. The Greek Cypriots oppose any plan that even hints at recognition, and quickly turned down Ozal's proposal of four-party talks. While Denktash clings to the concept, he's negotiating for a federal state that would make the north a part of the whole.

Both sides say that the Republic of Cyprus should remain an independent entity. But nothing has been agreed upon firmly and the two sides have many hard decisions yet to make if the country is to be reunified.

Intractable Issues:

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