Happy Ending for Cyprus?

After nearly 30 years of bitter division, the "Greek tragedy" of Cyprus could end with a smile.

If so, let it be a lesson that pressure from key outsiders; a reasonable plan for peace; and a big, fat carrot are essential ingredients for resolving such long-standing disputes.

In a matter of months, the outlook for the Mediterranean island has dramatically improved, mostly because all three factors have come into play.

First, pressure from influential outsiders. Last week, in a historic shift, the leader of Turkey's governing party flatly told the ruler of Turkish northern Cyprus to get on with peace negotiations with his Greek counterpart in the south. It's as if the Arab world were to gang up on Yasser Arafat and tell him to make a deal with Israel.

Next, a workable peace plan. In November, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward a design to unite the island in a Swiss-like government of autonomous zones, under a rotating presidency.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern part of the island after a short-lived coup that aimed to join Cyprus with Greece. A buffer zone and UN peacekeepers separate the Turkish minority, in the north from the Greek majority, in the south.

For years, the leader of Turkish Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, has refused to join with the island's majority Greeks, claiming an independence that only Ankara recognized. But during the Christmas week, an astonishing 30,000 Turkish Cypriots - about a sixth of the population - held a rally to protest his hard-line position.

Why? In large part because of the third factor: the incentive. Last month the European Union formally invited Cyprus to join its economic club. But if there's no unification, only the Greek part of Cyprus would join. Understandably, Turkish Cypriots - whose standard of living is a quarter of that of the Greek Cypriots - want in on the economic benefits.

Don't hand out the Nobel Peace Prize yet, but it looks as if Cyprus is coming closer to the medal than ever. And if Cyprus can resolve its dispute, that bodes well for Turkey and Greece, two key NATO players whose antagonistic relationship has too often roiled the alliance and diminished Turkey's role as a key Western ally.

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