A pipeline across the Cyprus question

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Mon Nov 29 18:23:49 MST 1999

The Indian Express

Friday, November 26, 1999
A pipeline across the Cyprus question
Saeed Naqvi

The deal signed in Istanbul last week between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey
to build a pipeline that would send Caspian Sea oil to the western markets
is a setback for Russia and Iran, of course, but it could have ramifications
way beyond the politics of oil.
The deal was signed in the presence of President Clinton and was possibly
the most important event on the margins of the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit attended by 50 of the world's most
powerful leaders.
Clearly, Turkey became the flavour of the day having clinched the pipeline
deal it has been working on for years. The 1,730 km pipeline, costing $ 2.4
billion, will cross through Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean port of
As if to provide a stark contrast, President Clinton was greeted by
protestors during his visit to Athens. The protests had nothing to do with
the pipeline deal but were rather an expression of Greek anger against the
US-led air strikes on Serbia in the summer. There are two sources
ofSe-rbian-Greek camaraderie: the common bond of the Orthodox Church and
negative memories of the Ottoman Empire.
The OSCE summit may well be remembered for the harshest Russian-US exchanges
since the end of the Cold War on an issue on which all the summiteers had
very strong views: Moscow's military action in Chechnya.
But decisions in Istanbul, like the pipe-line deal, also shed light on
issues which the specialists can now place under their respective
microscopes. Chechnya came into focus in an obvious way, of course, when
Yeltsin and Clinton clashed. Clinton maintained that attacks on civilians
would invite a fundamentalist backlash, which would have ramifications
beyond Russia's borders.
Yeltsin's incantation was that it was Russia's internal affair and those
guilty of air strikes against Serbia could hardly strike a holier-than-thou
All of this dominated the first day's proceedings at Istanbul. The less
obvious way Chechnya came to be discussed was when delegates were heard
murmuring thatRussia had been kept out of the pipeline deal because of the
turbulence in that state which lies on the pipeline route. In other words
the strategic importance of Grozny in terms of oil and gas pipelines came to
be discussed on the margins of one of the world's most important summits.In
brief Chechnya is not only about Islam and terrorism; it is about movement
of hydrocarbons as well.
The other issue that came up on the margins of the conference was that of
Cyprus. The Cyprus issue surfaces under the most awkward circumstances.
After Turkey's military intervention in Cyprus in 1974 to halt alleged
ethnic cleansing of the Turkish Cypriots. Ankara has been the only capital
in the world to accord diplomatic recognition to the Turkish Re-public of
Northern Cyprus with a population of over 200,000.
Meanwhile the UN and other world bodies recognise the Greek Cypriots in the
southern part of the island (with a population of over 600,000) as the
government of Cyprus, ``pending the resolution of the Cyprusquestion''.Since
Turkey was hosting the OSCE summit and the Republic of Cyprus (the one that
Turkey does not recognise) is a fullfledged member of OSCE, there arose a
piquant situation.
If Turkey, as hosts, were to invite Glafcos Clerides as the president of
Cyprus, Ankara would have conferred recognition on the de jure status quo on
the island as opposed to the de facto partition which, interestingly, took
place in 1974 when Turkey's current prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, was in
his earlier incarnation also the prime minister of Turkey.
If on the other hand Ankara had invited to the conference Rauf Denktas,
president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Denktas would have had
no recognition among the other OSCE leaders. Apparently the problem was
circumvented because it was put out that Clerides was invited by the OSCE
and the invitation for President Demirel's banquet was issued to Clerides,
not ``Pres-ident'' Clerides.
President Clinton's itinerary Tu-rkey, Greece, Kosovo undersocres
theimportance he attaches to this region wh-ere remnants of Hellenism,
Ottoman empire, Asustro Hungarian empire, Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox
Church, Isl-am and Christianity are all in an almighty scrum.
At a time when membership of the European Union, the OSCE, NATO expansion,
European defence independent of NATO are all on the fast track, Albania,
Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Cyprus cannot be allowed to simmer
The pipeline deal gives heart to Turkey and, in its perception, brings it
that much closer to being accorded membership of the European Union. However
th-ese also happen to be President Clinton's last months in office. In next
year's presidential elections, every candidate will have to keep an eye on
the large ethnic Greek vote in the US.
It is in these circumstances of promise and challenge that the Denktas
Clerides indirect talks take place under the auspices of the UN Secretary
General in New York from December 3. President Clinton would like to add
another trophy to hislist of international successes. But alas, the talks in
New York, expected to last ten days, will have to be continued a little
while longer until the next US administration which does not have to look
over its shoulder towards its Greek constituency concludes the Cyprus deal
with a sense of fair play.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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