Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group says that both Turkish and Greek Cypriots want to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, however, the old model of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal solution had worn thin and it is time to explore new options.
In an interview with Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’, Pope also said that Israel’s urgent need to export its considerable gas finds to European markets was one of the reasons why the USA was taking such a close interest in the negotiations.
There is another reason why the USA is interested in a Cyprus solution, (perhaps because Turkey has said it wants a settlement), is that that America would like to see improved relations between Turkey and Israel which would be embodied by a trans-Turkey gas pipeline.
The importance of Israel, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus forming a strategic anchor in this unstable part of the world is also a factor. Generally speaking, the Americans view the current situation as an opportunity to forge a deal.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan sent the message that he wanted a deal to be made. Pope says that the pro-EU electorate in Turkey had been neglected and in an effort to garner more votes for Erdogan to become president, it would be seen as a pro-EU success story if a solution to the 40 year old problem in Cyprus could be found. Furthermore, a solution would greatly enhance Turkey’s chances of becoming a member of the EU.
A further impetus to reaching a settlement is that Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades wants a solution and normalisation of relations with mainland Turkey in order to alleviate the dire economic situation the South finds itself in after the banking crisis last year.
As regards the parameters of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal republic of Cyprus, Pope says that public opinion reflects the fact that there is little faith and only limited, cautious interest in the negotiations.
He says that a big problem is that America and Turkey are in a hurry to see a solution found. However, people on the island are not supportive of a federal settlement. Public opinion polls show that federal reunification is the second choice for both sides. Theoretically, there is some support for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. However, broken down to what it basically means – sharing power, political equality et cetera, polls show that only 20-25% of Greek Cypriots show support; three-quarters of the people are against the elements of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. He adds that little has changed to alter public opinion.
Thus, Pope says that a bi-communal, bi-zonal paradigm is looking very tired and dilapidated.
Pope goes on to say that most of the natural gas is currently in Israeli territorial waters and that discoveries in Cyprus have proved disappointing. Neither is it clear if what has been found is of commercial grade. It will take years before any commercial exploitation is seen to be viable.
However, the Israelis are in a hurry, they have finally understood that they cannot have a pipeline without a settlement on Cyprus. Because the owners of the Leviathan field in Israel are keen to market their gas, they need to take a decision in the next several months. A viable option for them is to construct a floating natural gas platform, which would cost more and eat into profits. The operators of Leviathan field need to take a decision soon, which puts some pressure on all the players to act.
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