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İLHAN TANIR

İLHAN TANIR > Greek and Turkish Cypriots in need of the same language

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“Newly found energy sources present a very important window of opportunity for all actors, including Turkey, in working toward solving the Cyprus problem,” said the foreign minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, during our conversation when she visited Washington. She then went on to say how Turkey’s policies over the last decades have been wrong-headed.

The minister also gave a long talk at the Wilson Center, extensively discussing how these new energy fields can deliver “momentum” to creating an environment “for investment in infrastructure and financial structures of the island,” and for new jobs.

“I am not here for Turkey-bashing,” the minister said in the second part of her presentation, which focused on Turkey’s recent “threats of violence and saber-rattling,” and how this posture has had a detrimental effect on the region’s atmosphere; a message also delivered to the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Despite the minister’s complaints about Turkish “bullying” in Washington, by no means do politicians from Greek Cyprus fail to recognize that the days are gone in which “Washington would make a call through the Pentagon, and Ankara would heed the warnings of Washington to change its attitude,” as one American source who has knowledge of the meeting said.

Haluk Direskeneli, an Ankara-based energy analyst, articulates the new eastern Mediterranean map a little differently: “Turkey is a regional power with a population of 75 million and a vibrant and growing economy. There is no solution without the prior consent of Turkey.”

It appeared from meeting with Clinton that the U.S. administration would also very much like Greek Cyprus to solve its problems with Turkey, without asking too much from them. According to another Washington source, she was careful not to overplay what the U.S. can and wants to do in response to Turkey’s newly rising assertiveness in its south, and avoided giving any particular assurances or adopting a sharp stance against it.

With all the hope tied to it, the final results regarding the quantity of natural gas in a new offshore field south of Cyprus will soon be revealed by U.S.-owned Noble Energy, probably within the next week.
The minister made it clear her country sees new discoveries as a historical moment, one encapsulating both opportunities and challenges. And Greek Cypriot officials are not deluding themselves into believing there is any certainty peace on the island will follow these discoveries right away.

When talking to officials from both Turkish and Greek Cyprus this week, it became clear both sides see exactly the same sticking point preventing the reunification negotiations from going forward: the lack of the political will on the other side.

In the second half of 2012, the Greek Cypriot’s EU presidency will add another layer of complexity to the Cyprus problem. Turkish officials already declared that if that came prior to a solution, Turkey would freeze its already stalling relations with the EU.

With the rapidly changing dynamics of the region – which have been given a strong push by the Arab Spring, Turkey’s axis is now considered to have realigned with the Atlantic in the face of a perception of the growing threat coming from Iran, in the light of recent Turkish consent to deploy NATO radars on its soil and the heavy workload waiting with regard to Syria, a case that so far has been a brutal reminder for Ankara of the extent of its reach.

The next months will show whether the two sides find the “same language,” both for reunification talks and negotiating a fair share of nearby natural resources in the Mediterranean, from which Greece and Turkey have much to gain from cooperation.

When pressed, the minister brought herself to make two negative statements to reach one positive end note, which might just fit today: “we do not believe miracles do not happen.”

December/24/2011

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