Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders are sharpening their diplomatic rapiers as the latest duel over the island starts at the United Nations this week. A fierce debate is expected to take place in the UN Security Council, convened at the request of the Greek Cypriots, between Cypriot President Spiro Kyprianou and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. As many as 50 or 60 UN delegates are expected to take sides.
Many diplomats here consider Cyprus's prospects for achieving unity and independence under a federated or confederated system to be slim, if not outright hopeless.
Some diplomats say that the Greek Cypriots may cut off electricity and water supplies to the Turkish part of the island. Turkish Cypriots say they would consider this an act of war.
''The Turkish slicing machine keeps cutting away at Cyprus's bicommunal-based nationhood and will stop only when the island will be, in fact, partitioned and its two peoples will have reunited with Turkey on one side, Greece on the other, '' says a diplomat who has been involved with attempts to settle the dispute.
Another UN observer says, ''While the Greek Cypriots play complicated diplomatic games ensnaring mostly themselves, the Turkish Cypriots say bluntly, 'might makes right.' ''
After Mr. Denktash announced last November that Turkish Cyprus would be from then on an independent country, in violation of Security Council resolutions, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar tried to freeze the situation so that he might try to reinitiate intercommunity talks.
He proposed a trade-off to the Turkish Cypriots: If they would consent to minor territorial readjustments in and around Varosha favoring the Greek Cypriots, there would be no immediate attempt to roll them back.
Not only did Denktash reject this idea, but he also decided to exchange ambassadors with Turkey and announce elections for a Turkish-Cypriot assembly.
President Kyprianou is expected to press the Security Council to adopt a resolution that will ask the Turkish Cypriots to cancel separatist measures they have already taken and refrain from taking new ones.
The United States, US diplomats admit in private, is embarrassed by this clash which tends to weaken NATO's southern flank. Egypt and Pakistan, as Islamic nations and members of the Security Council, favor the Turks. Most nonaligned nations support the Greek Cypriots and the cause of an independent, nonaligned Cyprus. The European Community is split.
''In the end, the council is likely to limit itself to slapping Denktash's wrist and calling him, in essence, 'a naughty boy,' '' says a Mediterranean ambassador. ''The Turks will denounce the council's resolution and ignore it. Turkish brutality and Greek lack of realism have together contributed to gradually eroding Cyprus's foundations as an independent nation.''