Is this a new chance for Cyprus?

Is this a new chance for Cyprus?

My readers know I have rarely been hopeful about a Cyprus settlement. My skepticism only increased after the demise of the Annan Plan that I supported in 2003-2004 in my various articles and commentaries at the time. Anyone who is concerned with the Cyprus problem – and admittedly there are not many – knows how that affair ended.

Turkish Cypriots ended up eating humble pie, even though they accepted the EU-endorsed international blue-print for a settlement, while Greek Cypriots were rewarded with EU membership for rejecting it. Looked at from their perspective, they were probably right to do so too.

They knew by that time that EU membership was in their pocket, regardless of what happened in the Cyprus talks. Given that Turkey was also keen to start its membership talks; their assumption was that the EU would pressurize the Turkish side into accepting a settlement on their terms. So why accept the Annan Plan?

Their hopes about the EU’s capacity to pressurize Turkey turned out, however, to be misplaced. Had Germany and France not made clear their opposition to Turkish membership then things might have been different.

Had the EU acted fairly towards the Turkish Cypriot side, by at least helping to reduce its international isolation after the Annan Plan process, things might have been different again. But they did not do so. Not only did the Turkish side end up eating humble pie, but the Greek side used its EU membership to deepen their isolation.

Nearly a decade on one can see that the Cyprus talks are resuming, this time in a fundamentally different environment. For one thing, Greek Cypriots don’t know if they hate Turkey or the EU more.

Loath as they may be to admitted it, they also know that a settlement is crucial if they are to overcome their economic woes.

Their recovery is also tied in with the natural gas discovered off the coast of Cyprus. Industry experts are pointing out that availing of these reserves fully will require peace and cooperation with Turkey for a host of objective reasons. There is enough written out there on this for those who are interested.

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriots, who clearly do not want to become a colony of Turkey, or worse just another Turkish province, and are keen on preserving their unique identity, and continue to be keen about a settlement. They see that the declaration announced on Tuesday provides a fresh blueprint for this, even if the details have yet to be hammered out.

Given this declaration and the new environment in the Eastern Mediterranean - with all the threats and opportunities it is producing - one can be a little more optimistic that reason will prevail in the south of the island now. Another positive development is the reentry of the U.S. as an active player in Cyprus.

It was reportedly pressure applied from Victoria Nuland, the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, on the Greek Cypriot administration that got the ball rolling this time. The whole world knows by now, of course, how she feels about the EU, thanks to the crisis in Ukraine.

Nuland’s successful involvement in Cyprus also highlights the EU’s failure to use its influence over the Greek Cypriots to date, its classic argument being that it cannot go against a member state. The simple fact is that the U.S. is prepared to use pressure equitably without hiding behind EU-type arguments.

Put another way, it is better to have the U.S. in and the EU out where the Cyprus problem is concerned. EU officials will dispute this and say they are not out, of course, but the big picture shows who is running the show this time, and who is hanging on to whose coattails.

Still, even with active U.S. involvement, this is Cyprus, and a healthy dose of skepticism concerning the outcome of any talks always appears justified. Time will tell if the glass is half empty or half full.