Rival Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders agreed "in principle" on the key issues of the decades-long Cyprus standoff, raising hopes for a comprehensive settlement soon.
By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times -- 03/07/08
Cypriot President Demitris Christofias (right) and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on some key issues. [Getty Images]
"[The two leaders] discussed the issues of single sovereignty and citizenship, on which they agreed in principle," the UN disclosed on Tuesday (July 1st), following a meeting between the leaders of the divided Mediterranean island, Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. "They agreed to discuss the details of their implementation during the full-fledged negotiations," the UN continued.
The surprise announcement generated mixed reactions and expectations throughout Cyprus. The sovereignty dispute and citizenship questions have been the thorniest issues on the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has long demanded a "confederation" to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Violence in the 1960s forced many of them into enclaves throughout the island. They therefore oppose any strong unitary government under Greek Cypriot control. Preservation of the single sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, though, has been a key position of the Greek Cypriots.
The last major effort to unify Cyprus, namely the Annan Plan, which Turkish Cypriots approved but Greek Cypriots vetoed in 2004, envisioned a "single international sovereignty" but provided a guarantee for Turkish islanders by also recognising a "constituent Turkish Cypriot state".
The details of Tuesday's agreement on single sovereignty were not immediately clear. Analysts say the UN has deliberately preferred "constructive ambiguity" on sovereignty and citizenship in order to encourage negotiations.
Tuesday's agreement constitutes a shift for the Turkish Cypriots, but with this move Talat pushed Christofias to agree on the quick resumption of full-fledged negotiations. So far the Greek Cypriot government has slowed the process and insisted on comprehensive preparations before the start of talks.
Turkish Cypriot nationalists criticised Talat on Tuesday, for accepting -- though in principle -- single sovereignty, which they said meant "crossing the red line" of the Turkish Cypriots' historical cause. The ruling Republican Democratic Party, however, considered the meeting a disappointment, since the Greek Cypriots displayed no real interest in rapidly starting comprehensive talks.
Christofias came under pressure from his own hard-liners. Greek Cypriots long fought granting citizenship to Turks who migrated to northern Cyprus in the last three decades, but Christofias recently expressed readiness to accept 50,000 Turkish immigrants.
Turkish Cypriot Parliament Speaker Fatma Ekenoğlu called Tuesday's meeting a good first step. "The details of the issues of sovereignty and citizenship will be determined once the negotiations start," she said. The Greek Cypriot-ruled Republic of Cyprus became an EU member in 2004, but the northern part of the island sees no benefits from membership, since the EU follows the international practice of not recognising the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.
Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders will meet again on July 25th.