- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus A mysterious top-secret session of the Turkish parliament accompanied by speculation and conflicting statements has cast a pall of uncertainty on yet another effort to tackle the Cyprus problem.

The parliament's session the contents of which will only be disclosed after 10 years set the stage for a face-to-face meeting between Greek Cypriot President Glafkos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.

The meeting, the first in four years, of two men who have known each other for 40 years, has been set for Tuesday. Some believe that it may be canceled at the last minute.

The last time their talks brought concrete results was on Sept. 13, 1974, when, in the wake of the Turkish seizure of one-third of Cyprus, the two agreed to exchange 816 civilian prisoners of both ethnic groups.

Diplomats say a meeting is better than no contact but no one in Cyprus, Athens or Ankara expects much if anything.

However, there are some optimists, including George Vassiliou, scion of a wealthy family and former president of the Greek Cypriots. Now, Mr. Vassiliou is in charge of steering Cyprus toward membership in the European Union with or without the part of the island controlled by Turkey.

From his office, Mr. Vassiliou has a panoramic view of Cyprus, including the razor-sharp Kyrenia range with a gigantic mosaic of the flag of the self-styled Turkish Republic of northern Cyprus made of colored pebbles.

Mr. Vassiliou says all this means little "in the age of missiles." But he deplores what he describes as "the Turkish Maginot Line mentality."

He dismisses Turkey's threat to permanently annex northern Cyprus if the Greek side joins the European Union as incompatible with its role as a "guarantor power" of the island's 1960 independence.

"In practice, the north is already part of Turkey, with Turkish currency, army, telecommunications and budget," he says.

Mr. Vassiliou's main hope lies in his conviction that "the internal situation in Turkey is changing. People are no longer willing to suffer penury and sacrifice themselves. Turkey cannot maintain a military state for long. Its army serves no purpose."

Mr. Vassiliou believes that sooner or later the island is bound to be united because the European Union will pressure Turkey which also hopes to join the club.

The Greek Cypriots want a federal bicommunal republic on this East Mediterranean island but Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots insist on a confederation of two equal, separate states.

To Mr. Vassiliou, "once a federation is formed there is unlimited scope for compromise. But it will take time."

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