The peace talks are currently being led, on the Turkish Cypriot side, by Mehmet Ali Talat, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state currently only recognized by Turkey. Talat’s Republican Turkish Party (CTP) received 29 percent of the vote, compared to the UBP’s 44 percent. Talat, elected in 2005, has been instrumental in moving northern Cyprus closer towards ending the political stalemate with the Greek-speaking side of the island. He remains in office until 2010, but he may find himself with less room to maneuver now.
"We will continue to support negotiations," UBP leader Dervish Eroglu said after the election. "No one should say we are against them. We will put forward our views and discuss them within the framework of Turkey’s foreign policy on Cyprus." Those are positive words, but in interviews in the Turkish press, Eroglu had made clear his opposition to a single state solution and his desire to maintain northern Cyprus’s close links to Turkey.
The election results might prove to be yet another headache for Turkish policymakers, who have been trying to come up over the last few years with a new approach to the Cyprus issue, since the island’s problems are also Turkey’s problems. From a Eurasianet piece I wrote last year, at the start of the peace negotiations:
While the Cyprus conflict sometimes expresses itself in petty arguments -- such as whether baklava is a Greek or Turkish invention, and whether the gooey confection known around the world as Turkish delight should in fact be called Cypriot delight -- the problem also has a larger geopolitical element. For example, when the Greek Cypriot government recently wanted to grant international companies the right to search for oil and gas in the sea around the island, Turkey protested forcefully, saying the search area was in disputed waters.You can read the whole piece here.
"It appears to be a stable situation, but it is really an unstable one," says Niyazi Kizilyurek, a Turkish Cypriot who is chairman of the Turkish Studies department at the Greek Cypriot University of Cyprus. "This is not only about solving the Cyprus problem."
Turkey’s troubled EU-membership drive is also inextricably tied up in the Cyprus issue. The Greek-speaking south part of the island joined the bloc in 2004, and has since used its position in Brussels to occasionally stymie Ankara’s EU bid. Turkey, meanwhile, is using its NATO membership to strike back, blocking enhanced cooperation between the EU and the defense alliance in protest of what it sees as Brussels’ being held captive to the Cypriot agenda. This has hampered EU policing projects in Kosovo and Afghanistan from getting off the ground.
"Cyprus is using the EU to punish Turkey and Turkey is using NATO to punish Cyprus. All these things are going to come up as major issues if this current round of negotiations fails. The result is that the Cyprus issue, which has always been a wedge between Turkey and the EU, will go deeper," says the [International Crisis Group’s Hugh Pope, an analyst based in Turkey]….
….Turkey’s EU bid is due for a review by Brussels in 2009 and a lack of progress on the Cyprus issue could be a major negative. Still, the last three or four years have seen Ankara take a more conciliatory approach on the issue, in the hopes of getting it resolved. "The sense is that is Turkey does this, it will be easier for it to get into the EU and accepted in international forums," says Sami Kohen, a leading columnist on Turkish foreign policy in the Milliyet newspaper.
"But the feeling in Ankara in the last few months is that if there is no agreement soon, then that’s the end of it. This is the last chance." Adds Kohen: "If Turkey sees that there is no way of convincing its friends in the EU to change the minds of the Greek Cypriots, then it will say that we will no longer continue [its EU bid] because of tiny Cyprus imposing its own policies on the EU. If it comes to that point, we might see a dramatic shift in Turkish foreign policy."