The Threat to the Western alliance from what has happened in Iran and Afghanistan has put the long-unresolved crisis situation in Cyprus in a different perspective.
In effect, Iran and Afghanistan have assumed priority over Cyprus in the thinking of the governments of Greece and Turkey -- long active parties to the Cyprus dispute -- and in the thinking of both the United states government and the American electorate in this election year.
The shadows of Iran (which has a common border with Turkey) and Afghanistan now hang over the southeastern flank of NATO in the eastern Mediteranean.As a result, the governments of both Greece and Turkey share a prime foreign policy aim: the strengthening of the NATO command structure in the eastern mediterranean, left weakened by Greece's withdrawal from it.
Greece made this move in the wake of the Turkish Army's intervention in Cyprus in 1974 in protest at what was seen as pro-Turkish bias on the part of the US.
But the two governments are inhibited in what they can do to get Greece fully back into the NATO command structure by the deep emotions on the part of their respective publics on the Cyprus issue.
In Cyprus itelf, this shift of priorities on the part of Greece and Turkey has produced frustration among both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Both communities see themselves less center-stage than they would like to be.
For Greek Cypriots (four-fifths of the population), the frustration is compounded by the back seat which the Cypurs issue has had to take during the current US presidential campaign. The American public is manifestly more concerned about Iran and Afghanistan these days and not so sensitive as it was in past election years to efforts of the pro-Greek Cypriot lobby in the US.
For Turkish Cypriots (one-fifth of the population), the frustration is compounded by the economic stagnation in their zone of the island alongside the relative affluence of the Greek-Cypriot zone. This contrast is in itself an incentive for Turkish cypriots to have second thoughts about the partition imposed by the Turkish Army intervention six years ago. Their current dependence on mainland Turkey, which has awesome economic problems of its own, has borne rather bitter fruit.
Greek Cypriot leader Spros Kyprianou -- President of the internationally recognized but entirely Greek-Cypriot government of Cyprus -- may well have reasons of his own beyond his community's general current frustration. His political position at home has been weakened by the move into open opposition against him of the relatively strong Greek-Cypriot communist party, AKEL.
Mr. Kyprianou's predecessor and mentor, the late Archbishop Makarios, always managed by Byzantine maneuver to carry the communists with him in negotiations about the future of Cyprus.
AKEL now accuses Mr. Kyprianou of having mishandled things in a way to make more likely a permanent partition of Cyprus along the line estabished by Turkish Army intervention in 1974. This line favored Turkish Cypriots at the expense of Greek Cypriots, many thousands of whom found themselves refugees. The resulting de fato partition put nearly two-fifths of the island under Turkish-Cypriot control although Turkish Cypriots make up no more than one-fifth of the population.
With elections dues next year, Mr. Kyprianou has an urgent vested interest in proving the AKEL charge invalid -- even if this means a new round of negotiations with Turkish Cypriots ending in deadlock simply to prove how obdurate the Turkish Cypriots are.
This is what lies behind the resumption of the longstalled on-again off-again talks between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities, aimed at ending the de facto partition of their island. This is why the patient prodding of United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim over a period of 14 months has at last borne fruit.
But whether the talks, adjourned until Sept. 16 after a formal opening Aug. 9 , will be any more successful than earlier negotiations remains to be seen. Willingness to talk still has to be translated into willingness to compromise on the part of both Cypriot communities, each deeply suspicious of the other.
As for the governments of Greece and Turkey, there are more immediate obstacles than Cyprus to an early return of the easy cooperation of both within a fully operative, integrated NATO command structure in the eastern Mediterranean. Others include: the two countries' conflicting claims to underwater rights in the Aegean Sea; airspace access around Greek islands off the Turkish coast; and, perhaps minimally, the situation of the residual Greek minority in Istanbul and the considerably bigger Turkish minority in western Thrace.
The other alliance members urgently want NATO's southeastern flank strengthened where it comes so close to the Soviet Union and Iran -- with both of which Turkey has a common border. A restoration of some confidence between Greece and Turkey is crucial for any such strengthening.
Small wonder then that US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie urged the foreign ministers of both countries to get together for bilateral talks on these issues at the NATO meeting in Ankara, Turkey, at the end of June. They did. And they will be meeting again when the UN General Assembly convenes in New York next month.