The end of an epoch?

Author:Gorvett, Jon

Of the world's sorry list of seemingly intractable international disputes, Cyprus must surely take the prize as the one that most regularly promises a solution, yet most consistently fails to come up with the goods.

Yet, after more "years of Cyprus" than many can remember, perhaps the last few months may have deemed 2003 will be a more promising year than most.

The victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 3 November general election in Turkey, combined with the arrival of a new UN plan for a solution to the island's division, have given a major boost to hopes that Cyprus' 28 year de facto split may be finally about to end.

First the AKP. This conservative party with Islamist roots has, in the words of its leader, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, been "shaking things up" in foreign policy ever since taking office--and before. Stating in its election manifesto that it strongly believed "in the need for a final solution to the Cyprus issue", this dramatic statement was then elaborated as support for the so-called "Belgian solution". Most analysts had first disregarded this, given its apparent negation of decades of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot policy, which has always been to argue for two states, rather than two communities on the island, and a confederation, rather than a federation as in Belgium.

Yet, within 24 hours of his election victory, Erdogan had put the issue of the "Belgian solution" right at the top of the new administration's foreign policy.

Speaking on Greek TV the night after the election result had been declared, Erdogan reiterated the AKP manifesto line, while also accepting an invitation from Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis to visit Athens. This radical break with tradition was not lost on the Turkish Foreign Ministry, at the time still under the control of the outgoing administration.

They roundly criticised Erdogan and said that in future they would accompany him on jaunts such as his trip to Greece, which the AKP leader planned to make within a few days. However, when Erdogan turned up in Athens for the first official Greek-Turkish prime ministerial meeting in 10 years, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials were notably absent.

Instead, Erdogan took his soon to be appointed new Foreign Minister, AKP stalwart, Arabist and former diplomat, Yasar Yakis. Both Erdogan and Simitis talked of solving problems, with Simitis also giving Greece's support for Turkey's main foreign policy priority, the attempt to get a date from...

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