Cyprus hopes on Obama’s active support for reunification

Cyprus Institute for Mediterranean, European and International Studies
The Cypriot people were quite enthusiastic about Barack Obama’s election. Among other things, this was because during his campaign he promised to the Greek-American community that if elected, he will seek to negotiate a political settlement on Cyprus. As President Obama put it, “there must be a just and mutually agreed settlement of difficult issues like property, refugees, land and security”. Most importantly, he added that “a negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island’s tragic division while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region”[1].
The Cypriot government congratulated Barack Obama on his election, while expressing hope that his administration will actively support the island-state’s reunification process. Cypriot President, Demetris Christofias, spoke of the “very positive positions” of Joe Biden and the long standing relationship with him.[2] He made reference to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reported remark that he hoped that Obama’s statements (on Cyprus) would remain mere pre-election declarations. President Christofias said he hoped that the exact opposite would be the case. But he also made clear that Cyprus does not demand anything: all it wants is a fair treatment.
Cypriot government spokesman, Stefanos Stefanou, had stated some months ago that “President Obama has made specific declarations which we welcome. We hope that these declarations will be fulfilled”[3]. In the eyes of most Greek Cypriots, the US administration – especially the one under George W. Bush – have been, to date, far more pro-Turkish, in view of Turkey’s regional strategic importance. But as Stefanou put it, “We ask nothing more than respect for the values of international law and UN resolutions on Cyprus. We will insist on this, bearing in mind the realities existing both in the US itself and in the world.” The government spokesman also emphasised that the Cypriot government notes that Obama’s programme and his declarations promise a new era for the USA, which will bring more social justice in the country and a normalisation of its relations with the rest of the world.
In general, the Cypriot mass media presented the election of Barack Obama as a historic opportunity for the EU to re-define its relations with the US.[4] According to the Cypriot media on various occasions, EU officials have expressed strong satisfaction over Obama’s election and spoke of the need for a renewed commitment between Europe and the United States to a new joint direction in the world. Cypriot media were eager to report that numerous EU leaders also spoke of a remarkable victory allowing strong optimism about the chance for the European Union and the United States to pursue crucial solutions together.
On Obama’s election, Cypriot diplomats noted that this will provide a “unique opportunity” to strengthen EU-US relations.[5] According to the same diplomats, the three top priorities for a re-definition or re-vitalisation of the transatlantic and EU-US relationship are:
1) The development of new and more flexible policies towards third countries such as Russia and countries in the Middle East (especially for issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear ambitions);
2) The creation of common short-term and long-term policies concerning climate and energy issues, by promoting new technologies and incentives in the capital markets in order to push forward more quickly the development of a green economy;
3) Common approaches on the global financial crisis in order to avoid a longer and more painful recession.
Moreover, in the words of one of our interlocutors at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the era that we are living in demands a closer cooperation between the EU and the US, and also among them and Russia as well as such emerging major powers as China and India. This is because the present-day problems are common all over the world and thus the international community needs common actions in order to be able to overcome these challenges. The EU can bring all these countries together and establish an ongoing constructive cooperation among them, because it has proven to be a reliable and fair mediator and honest broker with all states”[6].
To be sure, there were also some (lonely) sceptical voices in a few radio and television interviews with Cypriot analysts who, by recalling repeated disappointing cases of misplaced Cypriot expectations, argued that the Obama election would not be different than any other since, as the cliché goes, ‘US Presidents are not the ones who really decide’. The most serious commentators, however, such as former Cypriot Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the rector of the University of Cyprus, Stavros Zenios, and rector of the University of Nicosia, Michalis Attalides, welcomed unreservedly the start of the Barack Obama administration. During a long live programme at the “Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation” (“CyBC”) before and during the 20 January 2009 ceremony in Washington, the three Cypriot personalities expressed deep appreciation for both the capabilities and the vision of the newly elected US President. Thus, Attalides stressed his conviction that the international community will experience better days with Obama at the US helm, while Zenios added that not only Obama’s vision is most promising but he has proven already that, in its execution, he can be pragmatic indeed. Kozakou-Marcoullis concurred on the label “pragmatic” and, in contrast to the pessimists, concluded that the Obama administration can be relied upon to make, inter alia, a salutary contribution to the resolution of the Cyprus problem, provided that the Cypriots also assert their rights actively and appropriately.
The next day, the chairman of the “Cyprus Institute of Mediterranean, European and International Studies” (KIMEDE), Costas Melakopides, interviewed by the “CyBC”, endorsed fully the evaluation by the three aforementioned commentators.[7] In addition, he emphasised the series of “idealist” values that President Obama had embraced in his speech, such as human rights, fairness and justice, dialogue even with former enemies, and refusal to regard military power as either always necessary or sufficient to achieve American goals. In this way, the new president signalled his commitment to a far less antagonistic and bellicose, but far more cooperative and multilateralist, US posture in the world. Melakopides thus concluded by submitting, as a more accurate description of the new American President’s worldview, the concept of “pragmatic idealist”.
Finally, Greek-speaking media in Cyprus (as in Greece), did not even attempt to hide their ‘relief’ at the departure of George W. Bush and Obama’s arrival on the international stage. After all, beyond the sincere expectation that the new administration will honour its pronouncements on Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relations, journalists and analysts could not miss Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s, US Secretary of State, repeated references to (Professor Joseph Nye’s) ‘soft power’ and ‘smart power’ notions as their own favoured instruments for the performance of the United States in the world.

[1] As reported by the Greek-American weekly newspaper Greek News, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).

[2] Christofias, President: Statements, Brussels, 8 November 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot Media).

[3] Stefanos Stefanou, spokesperson of the government: Statement, 3 July 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot Media and the Cyprus News Agency).

[4] Press commentaries, November 2008.

[5] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, December 2008.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Costas Melakopides in an interview with the journalist Paris Potamitis, in: CyBC1: ‘From Day to Day’, 21 January 2009.