- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

NICOSIA The Greek and Greek Cypriot governments are increasingly worried that the Bush administration will downgrade their interests for the sake of better relations with Turkey.

While issuing cautious statements in public, officials in Athens and in Nicosia show that they expect little comfort from Washington in the feud with their age-old foe.

Above all, they fear that the Cyprus problem, where Turkey is backing a separate state for the Turkish Cypriot minority, will be relegated to innocuous diplomatic exchanges.

"The Americans are freezing their initiatives on Cyprus while on the diplomatic level they are trying to promote bilateral contacts," said the Cypriot daily Phileleftheros.

Diplomats agree that the new president has given all indications of noninterference in problems that do not directly affect the United States. As far as the Cyprus issue is concerned, President Bush appears determined to leave the matter to the State Department.

For many years, the White House had a "special envoy" who commuted to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey and reported directly to the president. The U.S. envoys had numerous counterparts in other countries and the European Union, none of whom has made any impact on the situation.

"We spend days discussing the same things with our negotiators. After these tiring talks, the coordinators wait in line, and we are forced to meet them and explain our situation to them one after the other," said Rauf Denktash, who heads the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The United States considers Turkey to be the most important ally in the area where Europe meets Asia. Turkey controls the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, the key rivers of the Middle East. It has enormous economic influence on the new states of the Caucasus area.

Commenting on his recent talks with visiting Secretary of State Colin Powell, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said in a televised statement:

"The United States, the European Union and the United Nations are all interested in the Cyprus question, but they do not use this interest well. I told Mr. Powell that we expect a different approach from the United States."

He said he had told Mr. Powell that if "the EU decides to admit the Greek Cypriot administration as the only sovereign element in Cyprus, this will create a great incident."

Cyprus is among the latest group of candidates for EU membership.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who has been promoting what he describes as "a policy of dialogue" with Turkey, expressed concern that the continuing deadlock over Cyprus could derail all efforts at coexistence with Turkey.

"We are searching for common interests instead of looking at the problems," he said. "Cyprus is the issue that brings together or separates Greece and Turkey."

U.N. efforts on the divided island have been stymied since January, when Mr. Denktash refused to attend the sixth round of planned "proximity talks" in Geneva.

He said he would boycott all talks unless the Turkish side is considered as an equal along with the Greek Cypriot government.

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