Historic opportunity

A planned visit to Cyprus by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be an «historic opportunity» to resolve the longstanding dispute, said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou after a two-hour meeting on the subject with Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday. «We believe that all those involved will have to make use of this historic opportunity that we have before us… to overcome a problem that has divided us and has created significant problems for us on the bilateral level as well,» Papandreou said. UN mediator Alvaro de Soto also underlined the importance of Annan’s visit on Tuesday. He «would like to encourage the two leaders to press on and come up with something tangible by the end of next month,» he told reporters. It is to be hoped that Annan, who will stay on Cyprus until tomorrow, will have a fruitful mission. In light of the dramatic conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the possibility of a US attack on Iraq, Cyprus stands on the edge of a broader crisis, in which Turkey could emerge as a major mediator. Furthermore, given that Europe has entered a period of confusion, disorientation and fermentation, it seems safe to say that the international climate has deteriorated. Given that the movement toward Cyprus’s EU accession is gradually entering its final, albeit most crucial stage, a positive development regarding the island’s political dispute would reinforce hopes for a favorable outcome of its European wager. It would be harmful to cultivate ungrounded expectations or to underestimate the underlying perils. The fact, for example, that Annan is not going to meet with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash at the Ledra Palace, as they have until now, but rather at Denktash’s illicit presidential office in the occupied territory carries undertones of some form of indirect recognition which are alone a cause for concern. Moreover, it would be naive to believe that Ankara will refrain from undermining Annan’s mission if it deems that the requisite tradeoffs are not guaranteed. These are only some of the lurking dangers. Tackling them presupposes a high state of alert. These concerns, however, should not prevent the Greek and the Greek-Cypriot governments from making an effort to fully exploit Annan’s visit in the direction of achieving a resolution of the Cyprus problem.