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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The 'Cyprus Problem,' 35 Years In

(National Journal) - Q&A: ANDREAS KAKOURIS

The 'Cyprus Problem,' 35 Years In

On The Anniversary Of The 1974 Turkish Invasion, Cyprus' U.S. Ambassador Makes The Case For Reunification

When Turkish military forces invaded the island of Cyprus on July 20, 1974, Ankara argued that it was defending the status quo and heading off the forced annexation of the island by a military junta in Greece. Yet today, on the 35th anniversary of the invasion, Cyprus remains the only forcibly divided country in Europe, and one of the continent's most intractable problems. Recently, National Journal correspondent James Kitfield spoke with Andreas Kakouris, Cyprus' ambassador to the United States. Edited excerpts from their interview follow. Visit the archives page for more Insider Interviews.

NJ: After decades of United Nations resolutions and mediation on Cyprus, why is the island still divided?

Kakouris: We've been unable to move forward on a solution to the Cyprus problem because, quite frankly, Turkey hasn't accepted the solution of a bizonal, bicommunal federation that is the framework of countless United Nations resolutions. [Cypriot] President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat recently reiterated their support for that framework, with a single citizenship and political equality for everyone. Successive Turkish governments, however, have pushed instead for a solution based on a weak confederation of two distinct states.

NJ: What exactly is meant by a "bizonal" and "bicommunal" republic?

Kakouris: Within Cyprus you would have two areas, one of Greek Cypriot constituents, and the other of Turkish Cypriot constituents, but both parts of a federal republic. So there would be only one state and a single citizenship. By contrast, today 43,000 Turkish troops occupy 37 percent of the sovereign territory of a member of the European Union. In that occupied area there are 85,000 Turkish Cypriots and 160,000 Turkish settlers who have come since the invasion. There are 200,000 Cypriot refugees who remain displaced by the invasion. There are also problems of economic displacement, human rights violations, and the destruction of cultural artifacts.

NJ: Many observers put high hopes in the peace settlement proposed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004. Why did the Greek Cypriot community overwhelmingly reject the Annan plan in a referendum?

Kakouris: In my estimation, the Annan plan had more to do with offloading the problem from the shoulders of Turkey than it did with solving the problem in a way that reunited the people and institutions of Cyprus. When you look closely at the elements of that plan, for instance, it included the continued presence of Turkish troops on Cyprus with a right to intervene in our affairs. Would anyone in the United States accept the idea of foreign troops on your soil, with the right of intervention? Cyprus is a member of the European Union. We don't need guarantor powers or the presence of foreign troops on our soil, with the exception perhaps of a continued United Nations force that might be included in a solution.

NJ: So the continued presence of foreign troops was the main sticking point in the Annan plan?

Kakouris: The plan also lacked functionality. In essence, it would have established parallel civil services. Nor were the rights of Greek Cypriot refugees to return to their homes guaranteed. They would have become second-class citizens in their own country under the Annan plan. The 160,000 settlers that Ankara has brought to Cyprus would also have remained on the island, by and large. The Annan plan would also have superseded as law Cyprus' rights as a member of the European Union. As an equal member in good standing of the European Union, that was something that we could not accept.

NJ: If the Annan plan was so flawed, how did it get all the way to a referendum?

Kakouris: When Annan invited the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to... discuss his plan, many issues were glossed over. The tight timelines for arbitration meant that both sides never really engaged in serious negotiations, producing a disastrous plan that would essentially have endorsed two separate states on the island. So the Annan plan was someone else's interpretation of what was in our best interest as Cypriots. By contrast, the current negotiations between President Christofias and Talat are exploring solutions for Cypriots by Cypriots. That's far preferable to solutions designed to serve the best interest of other parties, including Turkey.

NJ: Yet don't you need Turkey to embrace any ultimate deal?

Kakouris: To be frank, yes, we do need Ankara to be more constructive and supportive. It's not enough for Ankara to say they support a solution to the "Cyprus problem." We need them to embrace the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation. After all, it should be remembered that Turkey is the aggressor and occupier here. Turkey is the only country that recognizes the so-called Turkish Republic of Cyprus, which was created by an act of secession that has been condemned by multiple U.N. resolutions. I recognize Turkey as a state, yet Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus.

Having said that, in a way it doesn't matter how good relations are between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders -- and those personal relations are quite good. The key to the solution remains in Ankara. We just hope Turkey will give Mr. Talat the room to negotiate in earnest without imposing its will from the outside.

NJ: Doesn't the fact that you are a member of the European Union since 2004, and thus hold a veto over Turkey's entry, give you significant leverage with Ankara?

Kakouris: You say Cyprus has a veto over Turkey's accession into the EU, but 26 other countries also have that veto. You might even assume that Cyprus opposes Turkey's membership in the EU, but in 2004 and 2005, when we could have exercised such a veto over Turkey's accession talks, we did not. We believe Turkey's European orientation is a positive for both Turkey and Cyprus. And we continue to hope that the EU can be a positive catalyst for a resolution to this problem.

NJ: So you firmly support Turkey's membership in the EU?

Kakouris: Cyprus supports Turkey's accession, but that is not a blank check. Turkey has obligations. In the past, Turkey has blocked Cyprus from joining international agreements. It continues to occupy the land of an EU member and refuses to recognize that state. Certainly under those circumstances, Turkey will not be able to join the EU.

NJ: What role would you like the United States to play in solving the "Cyprus problem?"

Kakouris: Well, if the United States wants to see Turkey anchored to the West through the European Union, Washington needs to realize that path runs through Cyprus. A solution to the Cyprus problem that reunifies the island and the social fabric of its people is also a "win-win" for Turkey. It finally gets rid of this Gordian knot in EU-Turkey relations.

I would also stress that Cyprus serves as Europe's lighthouse in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are a half-hour flight from Beirut, Damascus or Tel Aviv. When there was a crisis in 2006 because of the war in Lebanon, 60,000 foreign nationals evacuated to Cyprus, including 15,000 Americans. So there is a value added for both the European Union and the United States to Cyprus' position in that part of the world.

NJ: Yet hasn't Washington been reluctant to press the Cyprus issue in a way that complicates the United States' already difficult strategic relationship with Turkey?

Kakouris: No one has convinced me that Turkey's continued occupation of Cyprus either benefits Turkey or serves U.S. interests. Quite the opposite is true. At bottom, this issue is about principles and values that the United States holds sacrosanct: democracy, the rule of law, human rights. The Obama administration has already talked of the importance of finding a solution to this problem based on a bizonal and bicommunal federation, and I hope the United States will try and convince Turkey that is the right thing to do. There are many ways for the Obama administration to convey that message, and it doesn't have to be in public or through the press.

NJ: How are relations today between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots?

Kakouris: Since 2003, the restrictions on crossing the ceasefire line were partially lifted, meaning Greek and Turkish Cypriots could cross the line for the first time going back to 1974. Since then we have had 15 million incident-free crossings. That debunks the myth spread by some in Turkey that the 43,000 Turkish troops on Cyprus are needed because the two communities cannot live peacefully together.

NJ: Do you worry that the lack of tension puts the issue of Cyprus on the back burner in international forums?

Kakouris: Yes, because this problem is urgent. The passage of time doesn't improve the prospects for a solution. The older generation that lived together on a united island as part of intermingled communities, for instance, is getting older. The settlers that Turkey has brought to Cyprus put down deeper roots. In that respect, each day that passes solidifies the effects of the invasion and separation. So we want a solution to this problem yesterday, not today or tomorrow. And for those who see the relative peace of Cyprus and are tempted to accept the status quo, we say that peace is not the absence of war, but rather the presence of justice. And justice cannot exist in the midst of occupation.

NJ: Has the Cyprus problem defied solution, in part, because the Greek Cypriots are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian and Turkish Cypriots are overwhelmingly Muslim?

Kakouris: Well, the Cyprus problem has never been fundamentally a religious issue. But if we find a solution that involves Cyprus' Christian Orthodox community and its Muslim community negotiating their common future together on a single homeland within Europe, it will certainly provide a poignant counterpoint to talk of a "clash of civilizations."

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