Softer Turkish line

The criticism by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s intransigence on the Cyprus issue underscores the rifts within Turkish government circles over Ankara’s policy. Indeed, while the aim of EU membership is not questioned by any section of the military and political elite, some insist on dismissing any compromise in the belief that US support will make Europe finally bend its requirements and allow Turkey in. On the opposite bank, there is a trend toward the belief that Ankara should show greater flexibility, on the grounds that an intransigent stance puts the brakes on convergence and places vital Turkish interests at risk. Yilmaz’s position confirms the emergence of the latter school of thought. The deputy prime minister used strong words, expressly describing Denktash’s proposals as «inadequate,» and added that «Denktash must be more accommodating if he wants to help Turkey.» The fact that Yilmaz added a warning that missing the European opportunity would jeopardize Turkey’s national unity fully sets out the conciliatory stance: addressing not so much Denktash himself as the section of the Turkish elite which supports the leader of the breakaway state, Yilmaz not only points out the benefits deriving from a softer line, but also raises the specter that a failure in Turkey’s negotiations with the EU could undermine Turkey’s cohesion. Yilmaz’s stance should not be interpreted as a push toward a radical shift in Turkish policy. There is no indication, either in his words or in those of other pro-European officials, that they are willing to abandon Turkey’s longstanding claims. They desire a more conciliatory image, but no one could say with certainty to what extent they advocate more substantial compromises in the name of international law. For some of them, a softer approach may simply be a tactical maneuver aiming to portray Turkey as being open to negotiations and putting Western pressure on the Greek and Greek-Cypriot side. Still, public utterances by a more flexible section of the Turkish elite should not leave Greeks indifferent. Athens has every reason to point it out to its EU peers and to do everything to reinforce the conciliatory Turkish bloc. Even if it were a tactical maneuver, the mere fact that the deputy prime minister can criticize the intransigence of the Turkish-Cypriot leader vindicates both Nicosia and Athens.