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Media Watch 2004

20 February 2004
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Menelaos Hadjicostis
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 20 February 2004.
Denktash to fight for maximum sovereignty
"Turkish observers see Erdogan’s Cyprus gambit as key to achieving Erdogan’s primary goal of reasserting its dominance in the region..."

RAUF Denktash may not be able to “get rid” of the Annan plan, but he went into UN talks saying he has Ankara’s full backing to win maximum sovereignty for the Turkish Cypriot constituent state.

“Our efforts to get rid of the Annan plan failed. So now we will try to achieve the necessary changes to improve it in our favour as much as possible...and present it for our people’s approval,” Denktash told the Turkish Daily News.

How far he will get in achieving his aims, however, is a different matter, analysts said.

Denktash said he “reconsidered” his staunch opposition to the UN blueprint and agreed to return to fresh talks after clinching Ankara’s support on “absolute principles” that will not be bartered away in negotiations.

Those principles boil down to keeping as many Greek Cypriots out of the north, safeguarding Turkish guarantees on the island and boosting the Turkish Cypriot state’s powers at the expense of the future federal government.

But Denktash remains deeply apprehensive about the Annan plan and that his change of heart is owed more to the fact that he could not resist Ankara’s push for a Cyprus deal that would help its own EU course.

“Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan must be committed to a Cyprus deal. At this point, he has spent a lot of political capital in getting this far,” said Erol Kaymak, Associate Professor of International Relations an Eastern Mediterranean University. “Capitulating now would mean reneging on all his commitments not only to the EU, but to the US as well,” he said.

Branded by the international community as the single most important impediment to progress on Cyprus, Denktash could no longer afford to stand as a spoiler to the pro-EU momentum Erdogan has built over the last year.

Progress on Cyprus would bode well for Erdogan’s drive to push through make-or-break reforms this year that would ultimately determine whether Ankara wins a date for the start of EU accession talks this December.

“Any stalling on Cyprus will cost Turkey and Erdogan dearly. But for the moment, Erdogan has a strong hand. The military and the ‘establishment’ cannot challenge him directly. They must wait for him to implode, which is what failure in Cyprus could lead to,” said Kaymak.

Turkish observers see Erdogan’s Cyprus gambit as key to achieving Erdogan’s primary goal of reasserting its dominance in the region by resolving all conflicts with its neighbours.

‘The EU is Turkey’s main goal, but it’s not the only one..Erdogan’s government wants to strengthen its position in the region and its motto is ‘no conflict at all’. They are doing this with Syria, Armenia and Iran,” one seasoned Turkish observer told The Cyprus Weekly.

“Prime minister” Mehmet Ali Talat understands this, as he has ostensibly aligned himself with Erdogan’s Turkey-first agenda.

Talat’s overriding concern is that a settlement is reached so as to prevent a blow to Ankara’s plans that would, in turn, drive Turkish Cypriots deeper isolation if a divided island joins the EU.

“We do not see failure as an option. We should definitely succeed. We should attain a result. This result will, naturally, be attained while safeguarding our rights,” Talat told Turkish news channel NTV.

Noting that talks are still far from a done deal, Kaymak said Denktash’s pursuit of real gains on sovereignty and bizonality will lead nowhere at the negotiating table.

His one advantage, however, is that he could pass the baton to Ankara if he doesn’t get what he wants - the most likely scenario.

According to the talks process agreed in New York, Greece and Turkey would step in to resolve outstanding issues Tassos Papadopoulos and Denktash fail to reach agreement on until the March 22 deadline.

“Denktash can absolve himself of responsibility now that Turkey has put its own credibility on the line. Now the ball is in Ankara’s court,” said Kaymak.

Kaymak said Ankara will probably ignore the details of the UN blueprint and go straight for big changes that would bolster bizonality - such as the “straight border” concept splitting the two constituent states along a straighter line.

And since it’s unlikely that Denktash would achieve maximum gains, he won’t actively lobby in support of the final deal when it is put to a referendum.

The only scenario that Kyamak sees would result in a “no” vote in the north, is if Ankara’s support for the plan wavers, and the chances of that are minute.

“Given Ankara’s disposition and the amount of political capital spent, Erdogan must be inclined to push for a successful conclusion,” said Kaymak."