Greece and Cyprus making cautious moves

NICOSIA – Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s talks in Nicosia at the end of the week highlighted the delicate handling required regarding Turkey’s future in the European Union and the inherent issue of the decades-old problems Ankara has created with the use or threats of violence against Greece and Cyprus. «There are difficult days ahead,» said Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, who is reportedly about to embark on a series of meetings in European capitals. Naturally, neither the Greek prime minister nor Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos have laid their cards on the table, but negotiations on the sidelines are in full swing. Obviously, no revelations regarding the tactical maneuvers – let alone the final stance to be taken by Greece and Cyprus at the December 17 summit – can be expected in advance. Nevertheless, in statements made during Karamanlis’s two-day visit to the island republic, interesting signs emerged with regard to the two EU member states’ intentions and the limits they will be setting in view of Turkey’s course toward EU membership. First of all, there is the veto that could be exercised at the December summit. Greece appears to have a clearer stand: Athens believes that saying «no» to Turkey at this phase would have many – and unforeseeable – negative effects on its neighbor’s behavior. At the same time, it claims that as soon as Ankara begins to head in the direction of Europe, it will be forced to abide by the rules and principles of respect for international law. Anything else and it will never become part of the European family, Athens claims. «Turkey’s road toward Europe – likely to be very long one – depends on its own stance,» said Karamanlis, adding: «The EU sets specific rules, criteria and norms of behavior. Every country that wants to join has to adopt these rules, without exception.» What is important for Greece is that after December 17, it will be at a disadvantage on other fronts within the EU, such as a regulation on direct trade with the Turkish-occupied sector of Cyprus and the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. For Nicosia, anything could happen. «In principle, we support a decision for accession talks (to begin with Turkey),» said Papadopoulos, putting emphasis on the «in principle» as well as on the «however» which followed. Cyprus sets a number of conditions for that support, including recognition by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus, a decision to withdraw Turkish troops and the settlement of a number of other issues, such as the settlers from Turkey and missing persons. Papadopoulos refuses, naturally, to prioritize these conditions, although analysts believe that Nicosia could initially «compromise» on the issue of its recognition, at least until the actual accession talks begin. The same sources believe that the other decisions could be dealt with as talks proceed, in the same way that Athens is dealing with with Turkey’s provocations against Greece. Essentially it is a kind of veto «in reverse,» since the ball will be in Ankara’s court. «Turkey’s route to European membership will above all depend on its own actions,» Karamanlis said. As for the Cyprus problem, Athens and Nicosia agree that talks should resume as soon as possible to bring the issue back onto the international stage and continue efforts to resolve it. The new factor that emerged in Karamanlis’s visit to Cyprus is that there is now talk of a «painful compromise» by the Cypriot Republic, although not without conditions or a specific framework. Both sides are being asked for a «just, viable and functional solution,» that is, a «bizonal, bicommunal federation of two component states» (as referred to by the Cypriot president, also referring to a «dignified, painful compromise»). «Without dependence on foreign forces or Turkish troops» and on the basis of the European acquis communautaire, added Karamanlis, «in a framework based on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan.» Papadopoulos, apparently in agreement, added, «Within the framework and the philosophy of the Annan plan, once that has been improved by removing conditions that question the issue of viability and which lead to divisions within the people, society, economy and institutions.» So it appears that once again Greece and Cyprus are having to demand what should be self-evident, in other words, what the EU itself should be asking of Turkey – a demand that Ankara withdraw its troops from European territory – northern Cyprus – that it recognize the Cypriot Republic and lift its casus belli against Greece, an EU member state. This inability, or lack of political will on the part of the EU, in dealing with what are self-evident issues puts Athens and Nicosia in a very difficult position, exacerbated by parameters such as the US’s policy, which not only tolerates, or even supports, Turkey’s provocations in the Aegean and Cyprus, but has recently put forward a plan to upgrade (perhaps even accord de facto recognition) to the occupied territory. The US is also planning to reopen the illegal airport of Tymbou, ignoring UN and ICAO resolutions, unless, of course, they have these resolutions changed.