Why the talks on reuniting Cyprus never had a chance

Hopes for a settlement of the dispute between the Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus have been dashed once again. A much-heralded face-to-face meeting in the United Nations last weekend between Rauf Denktash, leader of the unilaterally declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and Spyros Kyprianou, President of Cyprus and leader of the Greek Cypriots, collapsed.

There is a tenuous hope that the two leaders may meet again next month in New York, but the gap between the two sides, which had been narrowed through the patient diplomatic efforts of UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, is once again deep and wide, according to informed sources.

``In fact, the talks never got off the ground. During four days Denktash and Kyprianou engaged in a dialogue of the deaf,'' one diplomat says.

The Turkish Cypriot leader said he had come to sign the draft agreement that had been worked out during their indirect talks last fall and winter, and not to bargain further. The Greek leader said that the agreement was but a framework and that it contained many blanks regarding key issues which had still to be settled, according to this diplomat.

``Both sides acted in character: The Turks resorted to their usual steamroller tactics and the Greeks as usual behaved as Byzantine hairsplitters,'' says an official close to the process.

``The whole issue is probably too emotionally loaded to lend itself to a reasonable and equitable solution,'' the same diplomat adds.

Who is to blame for the failure of this most recent high-level effort by both sides to come to terms? Both sides, some Western diplomats believe.

The framework that had been agreed upon in principle provided for a reunited, federal republic, with a Greek president, a Turkish vice-president, and two legislative bodies. It allowed for 29 percent of the island's territory to remain under Turkish control, after the Turkish Cypriots returned 8 percent of the territory to the Greek Cypriots. Turks make up 18 percent of the population on Cyprus.

However, some vital issues must still be resolved. These include:

If and when the estimated 18,000 Turkish troops would leave the island.

Which territories would be returned by the Turkish Cypriots to the Greek Cypriots.

Who would guarantee the island's independence.

``How independent would the federated republic of Cyprus be if part of it is occupied by Turkish troops? If its independence were to be guaranteed by Turkey rather than by the UN? What meaning would Turkish territorial restitution have, if we were given back barren lands and not fertile soil and populated villages?'' asks a Greek Cypriot diplomat.

Turkish Cypriot sources claim Turkey must remain involved in Cyprus, ``since Turkey saved the Turkish Cypriots from annihilation in the past.''

``I could not sign an agreement which I could not explain to my people,'' Mr. Kyprianou declared. Mr. Denktash claims that he ``had come to sign the framework agreement submitted by P'erez de Cu'ellar and not to haggle about details.''

``There is reason to believe that the pressures exerted on the Turks by the US and by the British, on the Greeks by the French and by the British, were relatively mild,'' says a high-ranking diplomat with a long Cypriot experience.

``Turkey is a strategic asset that NATO cannot afford to jeopardize and Greece, despite its rhetoric, is not about to break away from NATO either. Spurred by their friends, both sides agreed on a summit meeting to make a show of good will but neither had any intention to settle for half a loaf.''

``Basically, the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities distrust each other deeply and are not ready to coexist,'' he continued. ``Turkey does not seem to be in a hurry to move its troops out of Cyprus. The Greeks still hope that the US will eventually exert stronger pressures on Turkey. And so Denktash and Kyprianou came here with the same strategy: to blame the failure of the talks on each other.''

A UN official says, ``Like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, UN Secretary-General P'erez de Cu'ellar must now push the rock which has come tumbling down up the mountain again. He cannot afford to wash his hands of the problem.''

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