The international community - and particularly the UN and Commonwealth nations - must take every possible step to defuse the crisis in Cyprus following the Turkish-Cypriot declaration of independence. While the world community has few bargaining chips to bring to bear on the northern Turkish-Cypriot community, the act of secession must not be allowed to degenerate into greater antagonism on Cyprus. The world community would be remiss in resigning itself to a permanent partition of the island nation.
The secession could not have come at a more inopportune time for the West. While a bold political move on the part of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, the declaration undermines ongoing United Nations efforts to mediate differences between the rival Greek and Turkish communities. It violates UN resolutions respecting the sovereignty of Cyprus. Most seriously, it furthers tensions within NATO nations while endangering the security of the Mediterranean region - where Greece and Turkey face each other across the Aegean sea.
An international condemnation of the secession is, of course, necessary. But nudging the Turkish-Cypriot community into new talks aimed at reversing the fait accompli will require statesmanship of the highest order, given the presence of 18,000 Turkish troops protecting the Turkish-Cypriot sector. Turkish troops were sent to Cyprus back in 1974, following a Greek-led coup that sought to unite the island with mainland Greece.
Does the secession mean, as Mr. Denktash said, that the Turkish-Cypriot community is now a ''second state''? In other words, is the idea of federation involving the north and south of Cyprus, as has been long called for by the Turkish-Cypriot community, irrevocably discarded as an option? Or is the northern sector merely using secession as a way - an admittedly blunt way - of forcing the Greek-Cypriots in the south into negotiations for an arrangement acceptable to both sides? Diplomats will want to sort out such considerations.
The likelihood that the Turkish zone would declare independence, it needs to be kept in mind, has been discussed for some time in both the northern and southern sectors. Some observers had thought it might come earlier this year. Why now? Was the Turkish military leadership in Ankara surprised by the secession, as it insists? The recent elections in Turkey suggest that many Turks want a return to civilian rule. So, could the Turkish military have felt that the time to move in northern Cyprus was now or never?
Surely both Cypriot communities recognize that a permanent division of the island is counterproductive.
The two sides have already worked out agreements pertaining to the sharing of electricity and water, as well as sewage control in Nicosia, the country's divided capital. Given such existing arrangements, both sides would seem to have every reason for working out a larger political settlement. A summit meeting was to have been held early next year between Mr. Denktash and President Spiros Kyprianou of Cyprus. It is now more imperative than ever that both sides meet at the conference table.