Ten proposals from Ankara are a diplomatic maneuver to influence the Cyprus situation

It might simply be a desperate diplomatic and public relations maneuver by Ankara. But it has greater dimensions because significant players on the international stage are ready to call black white in order to help Turkey’s European Union accession. In particular, Washington and London have their own reasons for wanting to see the accession talks go smoothly. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s visit to Cyprus, Turkey and Greece was not unconnected to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s announcement of 10 proposals. Nor was Straw’s insistence on meeting with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat at the presidential mansion in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, despite Nicosia’s warning by that his meeting with Greek-Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos would be canceled. The common factor is a willingness to go overboard to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. Not only the United States but also EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn have exercised pressure in that direction. So far, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has avoided taking a public stance, but leaks from UN sources leave no doubt that he is thinking along similar lines. Trade-offs Ankara is trying to get trade-offs for its EU obligations by linking the opening of its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and aircraft with de facto recognition of the occupied north. That would mean the north of the island would participate independently in international sporting and cultural events, that the customs union with Europe would apply to its territory and that it would conduct trade directly with other countries, outside the control of the legal authorities of the Republic of Cyprus. After the referendum rejected the Annan Plan in 2004, the European Commission proposed allowing direct trade with occupied northern Cyprus, but Nicosia and Athens refused. Washington also tried unsuccessfully to arrange a direct international air link with the north of Cyprus. In August 2004, Papadopoulos proposed the return of the city of Ammohostou, which has been uninhabited since 1974 in connection with reopening the local port under the supervision of the EU. This proposal has just been rejected again by Talat. The second prong of the Turkish proposal is a four-way meeting (Greece, Turkey, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots) in May-June under the supervision of the UN secretary-general, in order to solve the Cyprus issue. Ankara suggests that Annan announce the results to the UN Security Council. Turkey has long aimed at such a meeting because that would indirectly equate the Turkish-Cypriot side with the legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus. This particular proposal conceals yet another trap, however. In essence, it attempts to place an issue which strictly concerns Turkey’s obligations toward the EU within the context of the UN. As mentioned above, opening up Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes is an obligation that arises from the path to EU accession and has nothing whatever to do with the process of resolving the Cyprus problem. The first part of Ankara’s proposals is no more than a rehash of what it suggested on May 30, 2005, without getting any positive response, as Cyprus Foreign Minister George Iacovou and his Greek counterpart Petros Molyviatis reminded Straw, who seems to be promoting the Turkish initiative. For its part, Ankara is doing its best to make an impression. In addition to telephone calls by Gul to his European counterparts, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to Davos, where he met with Annan. Erdogan expressed the view that «international support is already apparent from the US and the EU» for his proposal, and that Turkey has taken the diplomatic lead since the other side «is marking time.» Indeed he stated that, by his meeting, «Straw altered the balance.» Without a doubt Ankara has won some points in the battle of impressions, chiefly because it has a willing audience. In fact, however, it will be unable to avoid swallowing the bitter pill without destroying its EU prospects. It was not only Commissioner Rehn who reminded Turkey that it cannot avoid fulfilling its obligations; even Straw told them that. Erdogan’s statements are indicative of the impasse in which he finds himself. Having invoked the obligations that European governments imposed on Turkey in order to urge it to accept the Annan plan, he concluded, addressing the EU: «Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have kept their promise. But you have not done the same. As long as you do not keep your word, don’t expect anything different from us!» Such rhetoric may be acceptable to a Turkish audience, but has no meaning at an official diplomatic level. There is no doubt that such promises have been made, which explains the persistent attempts by the US and the Commission to bring an end to the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. As Turkey knows full well, however, it is the Council that decides at the EU. Of course, all that is without any foundation because the obligations that the Turks are now trying to avoid are ones that they themselves assumed. First, they signed the protocol for a customs union with the 10 new member states, which provides for opening their ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes. And second, they accepted a partnership with the EU that obliges them to normalize their relations with the Republic of Cyprus within the next two years. In other words, these are obligations that are totally unrelated to the Annan plan and solving the Cyprus problem. Ploy Athens and Nicosia are certainly sincere in rejecting the Turkish proposals but they were aware that a lot of noise was being made in connection with the Cyprus question that was intended to make Turkey look constructive and moderate. Sources say they were prepared to accept this diplomatic ploy to a certain extent, in the belief that Turkey should not be put under too much pressure. First, because Ankara might react by building up tension in Cyprus and the Aegean, and second, because its EU accession prospects might be halted. There will be a follow-up to this story. After the parliamentary elections in Cyprus in May, Annan is sending a delegation to visit the island to talk abut setting up new initiatives. Officially, Nicosia is entitled to say that the mission is unconnected with the Turkish proposals, but in reality there is a connection. Ankara is proposing an exchange and a connection in an attempt to preclude the outcome, or at least to make a good impression. And it seems that Greece is allowing it a certain amount of leeway.

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