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Solving Cyprus: the other Mideast conflict

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In today's clamorous world, where trouble seems only to spread, one long ordeal is moving quietly toward resolution. The island of Cyprus, only the size of Connecticut, has been a huge problem for NATO, Europe, and the Middle East. For 40 years, it has been torn apart. Its ethnic Greek majority and Turkish minority have clawed one another in civil war and ethnic cleansing.

Tucked in Turkey's armpit in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has been viewed by Ankara as a major security concern ever since the island gained independence from Britain in 1960. For years, communal strife was the order of the day. In 1974, a military clique in Athens tried to overthrow the government of Greek Archbishop Makarios for the purpose of enosis - uniting Cyprus with Greece. Thirty-five thousand Turkish troops were rushed in to prevent that for all time and to protect the Turkish community.

The force has been there ever since, cutting the island in two, poisoning relations between Greece and Turkey - a perpetual worry for NATO, to which both countries belong, through much of the cold war.

The United Nations has been in Cyprus since 1964, trying to promote peace, patrolling a buffer zone between the two sides, and urging negotiations. But the head of the Turkish community, Rauf Denktash, set up a nominally independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is not recognized by any country except Turkey, while the government of the Greek community is accepted worldwide as the Republic of Cyprus representing the entire island. Mr. Denktash long demanded official recognition of his republic before he would talk, and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit of Turkey loudly supported him, threatening to annex northern Cyprus if the Republic of Cyprus became a member of the European Union. Yet, this is precisely what will happen within the next 18 months.

Turkey, eager to join the EU, cannot keep Cyprus out. And the Turks of Cyprus, isolated and living in poverty, look forward to sharing the benefits of EU membership. The moment of truth is at hand. Mr. Ecevit stopped threatening. Denktash, having refused for years to meet his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Glafcos Clerides, has dropped his demand for recognition as a condition of talks. They have been conferring frequently since mid-January.

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