Is 1996 the Year for "The Big Push on Cyprus"? Leadership Crises in Greece, Turkey May Delay Cyprus Initiative

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Is 1996 the Year for "The Big Push on Cyprus"? Leadership Crises in Greece, Turkey May Delay Cyprus Initiative

By Ambassador Raymond C. Ewing

Readers of the Washington Post learned in December 1995 that Richard C. Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs and the principal U.S. negotiator of the Dayton agreement for peace in Bosnia, would leave his post early in 1996 and return to private life in New York. The Post cited administration sources as expecting that Holbrooke would continue to play an advisory role on Bosnia and possibly undertake diplomatic missions to the region.

Perhaps of even greater surprise was Holbrooke's comment to Post reporter Michael Dobbs that he planned a new bout of shuttle diplomacy in the eastern Mediterranean to promote a comprehensive peace agreement for Cyprus, on the Bosnian model. "We intend to make 1996 the year of the big push on Cyprus," Holbrooke said.

The Post indicated Holbrooke's timing for Cyprus diplomacy was late January, but with Bosnian developments, including President Clinton's Jan. 13 visit, the results of the inconclusive December elections in Turkey, and the grave illness and resignation of Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, it seemed unlikely that any Holbrooke mission would take place before February at the earliest.

Is a Cyprus settlement possible or likely in 1996? What role is the United States prepared to play?

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when the military junta in Greece sponsored a coup in Cyprus against its president, Archbishop Markarios III, and Turkey, citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, intervened militarily and took control of 38 percent of the island.

Fighting between the Greek and Turkish communities had erupted previously in December 1963. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was sent in 1964 and has been present on the island continuously since that time.

The United Nations has sponsored intermittent negotiations between the two communities. Since 1975, these talks have focused on how to establish a new constitutional arrangement for Cyprus that would establish a bi-zonal, bicommunal federation.

Among the key issues are how much reduction in area should take place before creation of the new Turkish federated entity; to what degree should there be rights of movement, property, and settlement for Greek Cypriots in the Turkish Cypriot zone, and vice versa; and how much authority should the two entities have and how much should rest with the center. Both sides also have security concerns.

While the island has been divided de facto since 1974 into two areas, the government of the Republic of Cyprus has continued as the internationally recognized authority. In practice, however, its powers extend only to the Greek Cypriot-controlled area. The Turkish Cypriots have set up their own government and in 1983 declared the independence of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." The latter is recognized only by Turkey.

The economy of the Republic of Cyprus recovered quickly after the events of 1974 in part because of the 1970s economic boom in the Middle East and the civil war in nearby Lebanon. There has been a shift from agriculture to light manufacturing, tourism and financial and other services. GNP growth in the 1980s averaged 5.6 percent and was 5 percent in 1995. Unemployment and inflation have remained low.

The economic disparity between the Greek and Turkish communities is pronounced and has widened. The Turkish Cypriot economy has suffered from lack of private and governmental investment, and shortages of skilled labor and experienced managers. The government of Cyprus has sought, with some success, to limit economic interaction between the Turkish Cypriot sector and the rest of the world. Turkey is the Turkish Cypriot community's major source of imports and outside support. Despite many difficulties, however, the Turkish Cypriot sector has experienced some economic growth and development. …