World Needs a United Cyprus

It could have been a Nobel Peace Prize moment: The new, can-do prime minister of Greece agreeing with the tolerant and pragmatic Muslim prime minister of Turkey on a plan to end the 30-year division of the island of Cyprus.

But the opportunity slipped away this week when the Greek prime minister, heavily influenced by the leader of Greek Cypriots, rejected the plan presented by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Many Greek Cypriots believe the plan is a raw deal: It does not go far enough in drawing down Turkish troops (who invaded the north of the island in 1974 to protect the Turkish minority after a pro-Greek coup); nor does it allow enough Greeks, expelled during the invasion, to return home.

Foreigners, the sentiment among Greek Cypriots goes, should stop trying to impose a solution on them. After all, it is the Greeks who have to live with this plan, not world leaders.

But the Greeks are mistaken. A united Cyprus has far more meaning for the world than for the 800,000 Cypriots themselves. In an era of terrorism and war between civilizations, reunification of Cyprus is urgently needed as a sign that entrenched ethnic divisions can be overcome.

Even on the "we're the ones who live here" level though, the plan represents a fair compromise. And were the two sides joined before May 1, all of Cyprus would join the European Union, not just the Greek side. The traffic of goods and people across the island's dividing line would strengthen the economy, and bonds, among all Cypriots - Greeks, too.

Mr. Annan's plan goes before the Cypriots in a referendum April 24. Before then, Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and high-level EU officials should visit Cyprus to make their case to the island's residents.

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