By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
In the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region conflict and instability abound. Is it possible one longstanding dispute in the region is finally being driven toward a resolution?
On Oct. 1, the Republic of Cyprus marked the 43rd anniversary of its independence but it remains forcibly divided, with Turkish troops occupying nearly 40 percent of Cyprus’ sovereign territory and continuing their deplorable activities virtually unabated. The U.S. stake in resolution of the Cyprus problem is high. Cyprus is a valued, committed U.S. partner in the fight against the new global threats of terrorism and terrorist-sponsoring regimes, proliferation, illegal narcotics and international crime. As President Bush has stated: “The U.S. has enjoyed strong cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus in the war on terrorism,” a message of gratitude for a good friend in a strategically vital region. Moreover, a reunified Cyprus will open new opportunities for regional cooperation between the United States, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Stability in that historically troubled triangle will have self-evident, far-reaching benefits for U.S. security interests.
Despite invasion and the forced partition of their country by Turkish troops, the people of Cyprus remain undaunted on two fronts: reuniting their country and joining their European neighbors in a broad political, economic and cultural union. On April 16, Cyprus signed a historic accession agreement with the European Union (EU) in Athens. In May 2004, Cyprus will become a permanent full EU member.
The expressed goal of the United States, as well as the United Nations and the EU, is that Cyprus, the only remaining forcibly divided country in Europe, be reunited by May 2004, so all Cypriots enter the Republic’s new EU era, with all of the attendant advantages shared by all.
For its part, the United States has seen strong bipartisan consensus support for a reunited Cyprus. While every administration, both Democratic and Republican, has pursued this goal since 1974, only recently has America’s collective political will to solve the problem reached critical mass.
In November 2002, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution supporting Cyprus’ EU membership, specifically noting it could serve as a catalyst for reunification. In April of this year, the House of Representatives voted unanimously for a resolution I was proud to co-sponsor, calling for the “United States government and others to redouble their efforts to seek a just and lasting settlement to the Cyprus problem.”
Just days after the House acted, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted its own resolution calling on all concerned to negotiate within the framework of the U.N. Plan. Like Congress, the U.N. expressed regret at the “negative approach” of the Turkish side. After the Turkish side derailed the U.N.-sponsored reunification talks in The Hague last March, the EU leadership publicly warned: “If the Cyprus settlement efforts fail, it would be very difficult to start accession talks with Turkey.”
Turkey’s intransigence is bewildering. Here is a member of NATO illegally occupying what will soon be a member of the EU — the very family of nations Turkey urgently needs and wants to join — and continuing to deny the opportunity for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots to reunite their country and face a common future as a European nation. Consistent polling results of the Turkish Cypriots, in defiance of their leader and Ankara, show large majorities want reunification and want him to step aside so they move on and achieve it.
While many point to the intransigence of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash as the reason for the ongoing failure at the negotiating table, it is difficult to accept that this man alone has been able to thwart pressure from the U.S., the U.N. and the EU without the resolute backing of Turkey’s hard-liners in Ankara, especially the military. It is to Ankara, then, that we must focus our attention now.
U.S. State Department Coordinator for Cyprus Thomas Weston recently re-emphasized the American commitment to restarting U.N. peace talks for reuniting Cyprus before it enters the EU next May, noting correctly, “This effort has to concentrate on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.”
The window for achieving a settlement remains open. Cyprus’ imminent EU accession offers this opportunity. In a region battered by decades of instability and strife, the U.S. and the world community can score a remarkable, bloodless victory for peace by persuading Turkey to abandon, once and for all, its aggression against neighboring Cyprus, and constructively support the resumption of U.N.-sponsored negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Congress stands firmly behind President Bush on this, and the opportunity before us should not be missed.
****Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. Published November 26, 2003 at the Washington Times