Cyprus Shakes the UN's Tree

If diplomacy is the art of the possible, then the United Nations tried to do the impossible in its plan to reunite the torn Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

In a referendum on Saturday, the plan was rejected by three-quarters of Greek Cypriots, while two-thirds of the island's separated minority, the Turkish Cypriots, accepted it. The lopsided vote indicates the UN didn't have its ear to the ground for what Cypriot leaders and their respective peoples would accept.

Now this 30-year-old problem, a result of a misguided coup in 1974, will still be an irritant between NATO members Turkey and Greece unless better diplomats step in.

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The European Union didn't fare much better. It tried to use the carrot of EU membership for Cyprus to push the plan along.

Now only the island's southern half will join the EU on May 1 even though its inhabitants, the Greek Cypriots, snubbed the UN and EU. The Turkish Cypriots in the north, meanwhile, are left out of the EU. (Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish-Cypriot regime, having invaded the island to block the coup.)

The odd winner in this diplomatic drama is Turkey. Its elected leaders and military stuck their necks out to support the deal, winning points in Europe for the nation's long-frustrated bid to join the EU. The EU now has few excuses not to let Turkey be a member.

While the UN sees failure, all parties need to see the good news in this vote: Both sides want reunification, although the Greek side just wants better terms.

If the Muslim and Western worlds are to draw closer, then the Cyprus problem must be solved.

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