Turkey Prepares to Abandon Northern Cyprus: a Lesson for Syria?
10, 2004, 5:31 PM (GMT+02:00)
report from DEBKAfile’s Washington and Ankara sources
Greek Cypriots and others may remain skeptical, but DEBKAfile’s
intelligence sources believe Turkey to be genuinely committed to
a speedy settlement of the decades-old division of Cyprus. Speed
is of the essence because Cyprus is due to join the European Union
this May: if the division is healed, and a federation formed, the
whole island will join; if Turkey’s protégé,
Northern Cyprus, continues to hold out against the federal plan,
only the internationally recognized government of Greek Cyprus will
join the EU, and the northern Turkish third, which Turkey alone
recognizes and supports, will be more isolated than ever.
Turkish flags in Cyprus after May
confidence is based on the secret talks that took place this week
between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, and
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, who was in Ankara for
a 3-day state visit. Erdogan told Assad that the Turkish leadership
had decided to force Rauf Denktash, the long-time Turkish Cypriot
leader, to go along with the plan first put forward by the UN’s
secretary-general Kofi Annan in November 2002. This envisages
a federation of two constituent parts, with a rotating presidency.
Last March talks on this plan collapsed after Denktash held out
Northern Cyprus is entirely dependent on Turkish support, and
on the 30,000 Turkish troops that have been stationed there for
the 30 years since Turkey invaded the island in 1974. According
to DEBKAfile’s sources, Erdogan told Assad that Turkey has
decided to withdraw this occupying army after Cyprus joins the
EU, thus forcing Denktash’s hand. And, indeed, Turkey has
good reason to do so. It is itself an applicant to join the EU
at some point, and furthering a peace in Cyprus will advance its
a closed-door meeting between Assad, Erdogan and Abdullah Gul,
Turkey’s foreign minister, on Wednesday January 7, Erdogan
told Assad that the decision, in effect, to stop supporting a
semi-independent Turkish enclave was taken at a meeting of Turkey”s
National Security Council in late December. Though there was opposition
from some military commanders, the council agreed by a large majority.
It will meet again on January 23, and will then reveal its “road
map” to peace.
leaders of all four Turkish Cypriot parties have been summoned
to Ankara to hear Turkey’s decision. But Debkofile has learnt
that, contrary to what Gul told CNN on January 10, Denktash will
not be allowed to lead the Turkish-Cypriot delegation to new talks
with the Cyprus government on the peace plan. It is being suggested
instead that Mustafa Akinci, the leader of the Movement for Democracy
and Peace (BDH) chairs the delegation.
link to Golan?
explained to Assad why he had chosen him to tell such things.
No other leader, he said, would understand how painful it was
for him to give up Turkish Cyprus, and what huge obstacles he
faced in selling this concession to public opinion. “To
give up Cyprus is like giving up part of Turkey itself,”
he said. But Gul added: “If we want to escape from international
isolation, we have no other choice.”
learns that, according to the reports that Turkey sent to the
US and Israel reporting on this conversation, Assad listened very
intently when Erdogan and Gul spoke of the need to give up territory,
and explained how to overcome domestic opposition to such measures.
He did not make any reply at all.
was more forthcoming when the discussion turned to Turkish-Syrian
trade, and Turkey’s proposal to set up a customs point on
the border between Syria and Alexandretta. Assad agreed to sign
a document of understanding on this, which was tantamount to Syrian
recognition of Turkish ownership of the province, giving up Syria’s
DEBKAfile believes that the implications of this talk about giving
up territory stretch from Alexandretta all the way to Golan. The
Turkish leaders, in their report to Jerusalem, were well satisfied
with their tactic of talking about giving up Cyprus as a model
for what Syria itself might be prepared to give up
message seems to have been absorbed by Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu,
Israel’s finance minister, has been talking about the possibility
of negotiating with Syria without having to hand back the Golan
Heights, or at any rate large chunks of the region.
Saturday, Syria’s semi-official newspaper wrote “Syria
is calling on the US to renew Syrian-Israeli negotiations from
the point they stopped in 2000.” Israel’s prime minister,
Ariel Sharon, will not accept this, insisting that any new talks
should start from scratch. This is a big difficulty. But the newspaper’s
call on Israel to be “objective, honest and not miss the
opportunity for negotiations” amounts to a rare direct approach.
the next few days, Washington and Jerusalem will try to clarify
Syria’s position. A group of congressmen are to visit Damascus.
And Jordan’s King Abdullah, now on a visit to Saudi Arabia,
will make Syria his next stop. Turkey’s prime minister was
making an important point. But lessons about giving up territory
may cut many ways.