The agreement between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to start UN-sponsored negotiations in mid-January ended the stalemate over the issue but in no way does it foreshadow a solution. Yesterday’s meeting took place following a memorandum sent by Denktash to the Greek-Cypriot leader, an initiative that was a way of retreating from the condition that Denktash had set for returning to the negotiations. Turkey obviously reviewed its policy on the Cyprus issue when it realized that demanding a recognition of the statelet as a condition for return carried with it an unacceptable diplomatic cost. The EU’s steady stance during that period convinced Ankara that by insisting on its intransigent policy, it actually facilitated rather than hindered Cyprus’s entry. Moreover, implementing its threat to annex the occupied part would deal a severe blow to EU-Turkish relations. But even if it did not implement its threat, the Turkish-Cypriot side would still have to negotiate with the Greek-Cypriot one from an inferior position. Ankara and Denktash have changed their tactics in order to scotch accusations that they are the ones blocking a settlement. This shift does not mean that they have also changed their position on the essence of the problem. It is desirable for both communities that the existing deadlock be overcome but there is no sign of this to date. And this is despite the fact that the prospects of joining the EU in the next three years creates favorable conditions for smooth coexistence. Ankara’s interest in Cyprus does not stem from the need to protect Turkish-Cypriots against Greek-Cypriots as Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Denktash have said. Its genuine concerns are instead reflected in the remarks by the prime minister and other Turkish officials on the island’s geopolitical significance for Ankara. The post-Kemal regime deems that if the entire island enters the EU, the momentum of European integration will destroy its own control even if some Turkish troops are maintained in the region. It is hard to conclude that this is more than a new opportunistic and tactical maneuver. The progress of negotiations will confirm or defeat this view. For this reason, the government has to avoid – unlike yesterday – all overly optimistic comments, which when refuted, convey a negative impression not only about government handling but also about the progress in Greece’s national issues.

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