Moderation on Cyprus

February 12, 1993

Don't toast the reunification of Cyprus yet. But the election Sunday in the Greek-ethnic country, occupying part of the island of the same name, was a step in that direction. It was a ringing mandate for moderation, which is rare these days in little countries with big nationalisms.

President George Vassiliou, the candidate of the left, came in first with 44 percent of the vote. That forces him into a run-off on Sunday with Glafcos Clerides, candidate of the right, who won 37 percent, with Mr. Vassiliou the favorite. The election turned on a plan to end the division of the island created in 1974 by Turkish invasion.

Cyprus, the Greek part, is an internationally recognized country. Turkish Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps an army there to protect it. United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali won Security Council approval of a "set of ideas" for a federal state of the whole island. It calls for one sovereign state with separate self-governing zones, freedom of movement and only limited settlement rights.

Mr. Vassiliou ran on a pledge to work with the U.N. initiative. He has been negotiating with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, and is scheduled to resume those talks next month. Mr. Clerides campaigned for a much tougher line that would virtually kill the initiative. A third major candidate was even more extreme against the plan.

The run-off will be even more of a referendum on the U.N. initiative. If Mr. Clerides gains all the third-place votes, he will win. But Mr. Vassiliou, and therefore the U.N. ideas, appear in the lead.

A Vassiliou victory, however, would continue rather than end the story. Turkey and Mr. Denktash accept only some of the Boutros-Ghali ideas. They hold out for more territory and sovereignty for the Turkish third of the island. There is no assurance that Vassiliou-Denktash talks would succeed, only that they would resume. A Vassiliou victory would put Turkey on the spot and that is where, on this issue, Turkey ought to be.

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