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Monday, March 03, 2003

Our Opinion

From Iraq to Cyprus, and Back Again

For some time, it has been clear to the world (increasingly aghast and paralyzed as it watches with incredulous eyes) that the United States will invade Iraq, aided by a “coalition of the willing.” (As Arthur Miller wrote recently in The New York Times, we are increasingly surrendering “the art of giving things their right names”: a forced march is now a “willing” enlistment.) Some people, however, resist being dragooned. We confess that feels vindicated in its trust in the fundamental decency and wisdom of the Turkish people by the Turkish parliament’s principled rejection of its own government’s deal to allow 62,000 American soldiers to use Turkey as a base from which to attack Iraq. Despite this major setback to US plans, however, as well as the opposition to war that is burgeoning in almost every nation — and especially our own — it is difficult to imagine George Bush backing off from what has turned into an extraordinary military mobilization. As if “immediate disarmament” and “regime change” weren’t enough, we now have to contend with what is probably the single, most insurmountable problem under the circumstances: saving Mr. Bush’s face.

In the event, policymakers and governments are already shifting their attention to “the day after.” As they do so, we hope that they start considering a central element of the debate about war against Iraq that has been mostly missing until now: namely, the consequences of the intense political poker — or, more accurately, bazaar — that has shamelessly taken place between the US and a number of countries in relation to and in preparation for war. The results of this unseemly (if highly revealing) haggling might end up being much more relevant than what ultimately happens or doesn’t happen in Iraq in terms of relations between Europe and the US, the future of the European Union, and a number of significant regional issues, including, specifically, the deadlock over Cyprus.

Indeed, the future of Cyprus might be seriously affected by the intense bargaining over Iraq. The ramifications of war against Iraq on Cyprus have been consistently ignored by the US press — what else is new? — but have naturally drawn considerable attention in Europe. On February 26, Financial Times correspondent Judy Dempsey reported that the Bush administration had apparently assured Turkey that, if the latter collaborated with US war plans, an “improved deal on the UN package for northern Cyprus” was in the offing. The article also discussed UN and European fears of the potentially disastrous consequences that a war on Iraq would have on resolving the Cyprus issue.

It seems that Rauf Denktash learned of the US “tilt” toward him almost immediately. (If it all seems like déjà vu all over again, that’s because it is.) It would be naive in the extreme not to connect his intransigence on the UN’s most recent plan on Cyprus to the US offer. Mr. Denktash was certainly aware of Turkey’s importance in a war against Iraq, and of the Bush administration’s desperate desire to use Turkey as a base. The Turkish parliament’s rejection of US designs not only blindsided the United States, of course, but also Mr. Denktash himself. The danger for Cyprus now, however, is that the Bush administration will not take a democratic no for an answer, but will, quite the opposite, increase its pressure on Turkey — or on Turkey’s generals — to sign on to American plans in exchange for US support for Mr. Denktash’s obduracy.

Let’s all be realistic. Cyprus is an area in which the Bush administration would not hesitate to make, or exert pressure for, concessions to Turkey or, more accurately, Mr. Denktash. The latter’s confident rejection of the Annan plan — in opposition both to the Turkish government’s recently expressed willingness to accept it, and work toward a definitive solution, and an increasingly vocal Turkish Cypriot public opinion that also wants an end to the island’s division — suggests that Mr. Denktash is fully aware of the new opportunities for a different UN plan that would be more favorable to him and to his cronies, if not necessarily to Turkish Cypriots as a whole.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan’s ultimatum to the two sides to accept his plan by March 10 or face two different referendums in the island’s two parts is also indicative of the pressure (verging on panic) felt by the UN that a war against Iraq will make a Cyprus solution unattainable in the foreseeable future if the current opportunity is not seized. Nevertheless, his insistence on a solution through referendums is particularly problematic, not to say virtually unprecedented. The notion of bypassing the legally constituted — and just recently elected — government of Cyprus is unheard of in negotiations of this type. What about Palestine, or Kosovo, or Kashmir? Why Cyprus, whose government, not at all coincidentally, is recognized by the whole world and is a sovereign member of the United Nations, and has just been accepted into the European Union? That the UN would even suggest such a “solution” betrays the desperation of its secretary general. It is, however, an absurd demand. Mr. Annan might not have noticed, but there was in fact a referendum held last month in the Cypriot republic; it’s called an election, and Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos won it convincingly. One might not agree with Mr. Papadopoulos on any number of issues, including the conditions for final reunification of the island, but to say that he does not represent his fellow citizens is insulting, patronizing, and unacceptable.

In closing, we want to reiterate that the Turkish parliament’s courage in aligning itself with the expressed wishes of its own people confirms clearly and unimpeachably that Turkey, on current evidence, is more European than some European countries, east and west (or is that new and old), and, as such, deserves to be embraced by Europe as one of its own. The actions of the Turkish parliament in rejecting American deals — although those deals were ostensibly “pro-Turkish” — is also a convincing sign of the rapid maturation of Turkish democracy. In the end, this all leaves us wondering about Greece, which has so meekly refused to dissent in any credible way with US policy. We suggest that the recent backroom (more precisely, backstabbing) actions of the Bush administration in regard to Cyprus speak more eloquently than a million speeches by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, or President Bush himself as to the nature of this administration’s “friendship” with Greece or with any other nation. In the event, we further, and humbly, suggest to the Greek government, and especially to its foreign minister, that the first lesson we all learn as children is that friendship is as friendship does.

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