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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

Attempts to resolve the political division of Cyprus and reunify the island have undergone various levels of negotiation for over 45 years. Between May 2010 and May 2012, Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu engaged in an intensified negotiation process to reach a mutually agreed settlement. Despite regular leadership meetings, continuous technical level discussions, and five meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Christofias and Eroglu were unable to find common ground or make enough necessary concessions on the difficult issues of property rights, territory, mainland Turks who had “settled” in the north, and citizenship, issues where both sides have had long-held and very different positions, to craft a final settlement.

In May 2012 the U.N.-sponsored talks, which had essentially reached a stalemate, were downgraded from leaders’ meetings to technical level discussions. With little apparent objection from either side, the talks were essentially placed on hold until at least after the 2013 national elections in the republic. This change in the status of the negotiations has raised questions about whether unification can now be achieved at all, increasing the possibility of a permanent separation.

The talks also fell victim to the convergence of several additional factors. One was that Turkey had announced on several occasions that it would not deal with any aspect of the EU that involved the Republic of Cyprus once it assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, 2012. Mr. Eroglu, despite the fact that the settlement negotiations were not part of the presidency’s mandate, also declared he would not meet directly with President Christofias during the same period. A second factor was Turkey’s insistence that the U.N. convene an international conference to resolve security-related issues, which would involve Turkey. The Greek Cypriots refused to agree to such a conference until the domestic issues were resolved with the Turkish Cypriots, a condition which continued to become unlikely. A third factor contributing to the demise of the negotiations was Christofias’s intent to make the Cyprus presidency of the EU a success; Christofias clearly did not want a divisive debate over what probably would have been an unpopular agreement or a potential rejection of any agreement he and Eroglu could have negotiated to preoccupy or to ultimately overshadow the Cyprus EU presidency.

The discovery of natural gas deposits off the southern coast of Cyprus also became an issue. The ensuing accusations, threats, and distrust between the republic, the Turkish Cypriots, and Ankara over how these resources would be exploited and shared between the two communities also clouded the negotiating atmosphere. Finally, the EU Commission announced in May 2012 that it would launch a new “positive agenda” with Turkey that would seek to strengthen relations with Ankara outside of Turkey’s formal EU membership process. This may have signaled to Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots that a settlement to the Cyprus problem would no longer hold up the strengthening of EU-Turkey relations, thus lessening the urgency of a Cyprus settlement. In May, without an agreement in the works, Christofias announced he would not seek reelection in 2013, seemingly signaling that he would not try for an agreement before he left office.

The United States Congress continues to maintain its interest in a resolution of the Cyprus issue. New legislation (H.Res. 676 and S.Con.Res. 47) has been introduced in the House and Senate criticizing Turkey and calling for support for the republic. This report provides a brief overview of the early history of the negotiations, a more detailed review of the negotiations since 2008, and a description of some of the issues involved in the talks.

Date of Report: August 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41136
Price: $29.95

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