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Media Watch 2004

12 January 2004
Source: Guardian
Comment: The following leader article appeared in the Guardian of London on 12 January 2004.
Turkey's pivotal role

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will have a lot to talk about when he meets George Bush later this month on his first official visit to Washington. Turkey is worried about Iraq and, in particular, the possibility that the Kurdish areas on its border may move towards de facto independence from Baghdad once the US-led coalition relinquishes control on June 30. Security and terrorism will also be high on the agenda, following last autumn's Istanbul bombings; Turkey is to host a Nato summit there in May that Mr Bush is due to attend. Despite its refusal last year to assist in the invasion of Iraq, or to join the occupation force, Ankara will be looking for continued US financial help. Mr Erdogan will also be able to report on his talks this week with Syria's bogeyman president, Bashar Assad.

But there will be another issue on the White House agenda that might be considered more pressing than all the above: Cyprus. The clock is ticking towards the accession of the republic of Cyprus to the EU on May 1. But as matters stand, that accession will take place without the northern, Turkish-controlled third of the island, despite all the best, past efforts of UN, US and British envoys in support of the settlement plan proposed by Kofi Annan. Last month's elections in the north unfortunately did not produce a clear mandate for the pro-settlement parties, even though most resident Turkish Cypriots, like the Greek-Cypriot majority, want an end to a partition whose 30th anniversary approaches.

This is an utterly absurd state of affairs that has dragged on for far too long. Mr Erdogan knows it; the Greek Cypriot and Greek governments know it; the EU knows it, too, and has frequently pointed out how it casts a pall over Turkey's membership hopes. Perhaps the US will be able to find a way of conveying this to those Turkish generals whose obstinacy ties Mr Erdogan's hands and who are widely held, along with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, to be the main obstacle. American assurances on the containment of Kurdish ambitions might help (although they would hardly please the Kurds). A new Turkish initiative on Cyprus, incorporating "limited but important" changes to the Annan plan, was being formulated in Ankara this week and will likely be discussed in Washington. Even if flawed, it should be taken up as a basis for reviving dialogue. Greece, despite the distraction of its coming election, has a clear interest in helping a reunited Cyprus beat the May 1 deadline. If ever there was a moment to resolve this superannuated dispute, this is it."