State Department Dismisses Any Talk of ‘Two-State Solution’ — at Least for Cyprus

Almost next door to Gaza, renewed conflict could loom on the politically divided island that is home to two British bases.

AP/Seth Wenig
The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, October 24, 2023. AP/Seth Wenig

The Department of State this week is making it clear that there will be no American backing of a two-state solution for the divided island of Cyprus. While that is likely to have but scant bearing on the future course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for which Secretary Blinken often evokes a “two-state solution,” the blunt language suggests the perils of dogmatic thinking in a region that is coming apart. 

Lest there be any doubt about these geopolitical fractures, on Wednesday the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, warned of an “age of chaos” and that “every day and at every turn, it seems — it’s war.” While nominally a member of the European Union, Cyprus is in the orbit of a Middle East on fire, and war is what led to the division of the island. 

As officials at Nicosia as well as at London, Athens, and Ankara are keenly aware, July 2024 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which gained its independence from Britain only 14 years before, in 1960. Since the summer of 1974 Turkish forces have remained in the northern third of the island, a breakaway region that Turkey refers to as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Washington, the guarantor powers of the island — Greece, Britain, and Turkey — and the international community recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as the sole political identity on the Mediterranean island. A United Nations peacekeeping force, Unficyp, monitors an island-wide buffer zone between the two sides. 

Recently, Turkish Cypriot officials, parroting the line of the Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, have ratcheted up talk that implies the de facto separation of the island should become de jure, i.e., recognized as legal. In a simplistic view, that would eliminate what has come to be known as “the Cyprus problem.” 

In a more realistic view, it could lead to war that would see not only Cypriot communities taking aim at one another (not for the first time), but that would pit two NATO member countries, Greece and Turkey, against each other in open conflict. 

As a reminder of the strategic value of Cyprus, most if not all of the British and American aerial combat missions against Houthi targets in Yemen have originated at the British sovereign base areas, notably the Akrotiri SBA, situated in the southern portion of the island. 

So, for a host of reasons it is in Washington’s interest that the political temperature doesn’t exceed the threshold of lukewarm. Ahead of the annual U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue this week, the deputy assistant secretary of state, Joshua Huck, told reporters, “We do not support a two-state solution [in Cyprus], 100 percent.” He added that America’s position is the complete opposite of the “divisive solution” touted by Mr. Erdogan. 

“We (as the U.S.) continue to support a comprehensive settlement under Cypriot leadership and through UN facilitation that will lead to the reunification of the island,” Mr. Huck elaborated, adding, “We very firmly support a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality for all Cypriots.” 

The American position has not changed, and with Israel’s war to dismantle Hamas now lurching into its fifth month, the frozen conflict in Cyprus has largely taken a backseat to other regional turmoil. Yet inasmuch as international organizations like the UN have failed to bring bad actors to heel whether in Yemen, Iran, or Gaza, the stalemate on Cyprus makes them look even worse. 

Mr. Guterres recently appointed a new personal envoy for Cyprus, Maria Angela Holguin. She made her first visit to Nicosia last week and this week met with the Greek foreign minister, George Gerapetritis, at Athens. On Thursday she is scheduled to meet with the Turkish foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, at Ankara. 

The key to solving the Cyprus problem moving forward, as the state department official hinted, will be less Greece than Turkey, but despite improved relations between the testy neighbors, that door is still locked. According to press reports the Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar, spoke with Mr. Erdogan this week and the Turkish president is said to have referred to the “sovereign equality” of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as a “red line.”

To make matters worse, the British high commissioner to Cyprus, Irfan Siddiq, has come under fire for wading into the most explosive issue in the Mediterranean west of Gaza. In an interview with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini last Sunday, Mr. Siddiq — incidentally, the former British ambassador to Sudan — said that the Turkish Cypriots do not want to continue being isolated without recognition and will require incentives for the resumption of peace talks. 

Those seemingly innocuous remarks irked the Turks, piqued the Greeks, and led to Mr. Siddiq being summoned to the foreign ministry at Nicosia for a good old-fashioned demarche. 

A Cyprus government spokesman, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, told the Cyprus News Agency, “In light of developments in our region, where crises and tensions remind us that there are no ‘frozen conflicts’, we expect that the UK … can send important messages to the Turkish side on the need to demonstrate a more constructive attitude towards the resumption of talks and refrain from new provocations and violations that hurt efforts to find the required common ground for a solution.”

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