Last try for Cyprus unification

The ethnic Greek and Turkish leaders of Cyprus held crucial talks on Thursday in an effort to reunite the island ahead of the country’s anticipated accession to the European Union.

After 28 years of failing to bridge their differences, Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, the leader of the republic’s breakaway Turkish north, have only two months for an amicable solution to the West’s longest-running diplomatic dispute. On December 14 the island, which meets all the EU’s stringent economic criteria, is expected to be invited to join the union as part of its enlargement.

Failure to reach a settlement before then is likely to put Greece and Turkey, both Nato members, on a collision course if Ankara acts on its frequently made threat to annex the breakaway northern rump state.

Leaving Cyprus for New York, where Thursday’s talks were convened by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Clerides described the coming months as “the most important diplomatic battle of the past 28 years—a battle that will determine the future of this country”.

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government is nominally negotiating EU entry on behalf of the whole island.
However, Denktash has snubbed the invitation to participate in the negotiations with Brussels, and Turkey has repeatedly warned that it will seize the outlawed northern territory if the island is allowed to join before a settlement is reached.

This week Ankara announced the creation of a joint parliamentary committee to examine ways of further “integrating” the north.

Annexation, say analysts, would damage Ankara’s relations with Brussels and wreck any chance of EU membership for Nato’s only member in the Muslim world.

“If that were to happen, Muslims around the world will see it as evidence that the West will never grant an Islamic country a place at the table of economic prosperity,” said John Sitilides of the Western Policy Centre, a Washington think-tank.

Diplomats say that while time is now of the essence, much of the problem has in fact been resolved.—(c) Guardian Newspapers 2002

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