Friday, November 16, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus This divided capital of a quarrelsome East Mediterranean island is where American influence stops and European diplomacy appears blocked.

The issue known as the “Cyprus problem,” diplomats say, is gradually coming to a head with the European Union facing a choice between the position of Greece, an EU member, and of Turkey, a candidate for membership.

At stake is the future of Cyprus, which is hoping to join the EU even without the Turkish-controlled northern part of the island.

A series of statements by Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem indicate an uncompromising opposition to EU membership for Greek Cypriots. Mr. Cem said accession of the Greek-speaking part of Cyprus would “lead to dangerous consequences for both the island and the region.”

If the European club goes ahead and admits Cyprus, he said, Turkey will annex the northern part. Such an act in effect would end the “Cyprus problem” but also would jeopardize Turkey’s own EU candidacy.

One Western diplomat said annexation “would have extraordinarily negative consequences for the interests of everyone involved.”

Those consequences include the fact that, for practical purposes, the border of Turkey would cut across Cyprus along the demarcation line set up after the 1974 Turkish military intervention intended to prevent the island’s union with Greece following a military coup.

Diplomats and area specialists believe that the recent 25 years have sufficiently demonstrated that Turkish warnings should not be taken lightly. It was the Turkish threat to intervene militarily that stopped the arrival of Russian S-300 missiles ordered by the Greek Cypriots.

Greece and Turkey, often called the “motherlands” of the island’s two Cypriot communities, agreed last week to cooperate on several relatively innocuous issues. They never can go further, said diplomats and other observers, because of Cyprus.

The Cyprus problem, according to a recent Western diplomatic assessment, has demonstrated the lack of U.S. ability or willingness to deal with the divisive issue.

The Greek side believes the United States is too beholden to Turkey for its support in the Persian Gulf war and the pivotal role in the Afghanistan crisis to play an objective role.

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