- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus — After years of fruitless diplomacy, the United States has entered the tangle of divided Cyprus with a message of commitment to a controversial plan on how to unite the eastern Mediterranean island.

The aim is to facilitate a compromise between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and, by the same token, reduce the long-standing feud between Greece and Turkey, Washington’s key allies in the area.

Bearing the name of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the plan has been criticized on both sides of the line dividing the island. It was bluntly rejected by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash but accepted — just as a basis for further negotiations — by the Greek Cypriots, Greece and Turkey.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Klosson has been spelling out Washington’s view — without diplomatic jargon — in public statements aimed at the Turkish Cypriot community in the north of Cyprus. There was considerable criticism of such an approach — and accusations from some Turkish media of “meddling.”

“A real solution,” Mr. Klosson said this month, “one with tremendous opportunities, benefits and opportunities — and yes, also some uncertainties and cost — is now at hand. It is tangible. It can be realized.”

This rare and direct U.S. political activity in a foreign country takes place amid preparations for two events likely to change the history of this island — tormented but prosperous on the Greek side, confused and controlled by the Turkish army in the north of the island.

One event is the official accession of Cyprus to the growing family of members of the European Union next May. The leadership of the Turkish Cypriots — population 200,000, compared with 750,000 Greek Cypriots — has refused to take part in the preparatory negotiations.

The other event is the December elections to the 50-member Turkish Cypriot parliament. The opposition to Mr. Denktash is wooing voters with the tantalizing prospect of participation in the prosperity of “the new Europe.”

To Mr. Denktash, the Annan plan “is dead.” He wants a separate government, a separate entity for the Turkish Cypriots, and because of years of conflict and what he calls “second-class citizenship,” fears anything “Hellenic.”

He reminds foreign visitors that “the Turkish Cypriot community looks upon Turkey as a motherland and a guarantor.”

This is the time of year when autumn rains are about to revive the wild flowers that will soon carpet the parched Messaoria plain in the island’s center. Most days are still sunny and glorious, without the oppressive heat of summer.

Politically, the island totters between expectations and fears about “becoming European” — most probably without the Turkish minority.

If that happens, what has become known as “the Cyprus problem” would continue to fester, generating tension between Greece and Turkey, something the United States is trying to defuse.

Washington believes that “the Annan plan” for a confederation of two Cypriot states represented internationally as one nation is the best way of ending the stalemate and beginning the work of putting the country together.

The Annan plan, Mr. Klosson told Turkish Cypriots, “is a comprehensive document for a functioning government and a road map to a brighter future. … It does this by embracing the idea of a bizonal, bicommunal island with a single international personality.”

The American ambassador and a number of senior Greek Cypriot and Greek officials believe that controversial details, such as territorial concessions and population transfers, could be worked out in further discussions.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Turkey would like to analyze the Annan plan. It has its good points and bad points, but we are in favor of resolving this.”

The Greek Cypriot government of President Tassos Papadopoulos has remained careful about Mr. Klosson’s direct approach to the voters.

“We do not feel we should react to this, but we know the aim is to achieve a solution,” said government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides.

Mr. Denktash did not hide his hostility.

He described Mr. Klosson’s activity in favor of a solution and EU membership as “diplomatically unethical, unacceptable, uninvited interference” — and said he would ask Washington to instruct its diplomats to refrain from entering his sector and making hostile speeches on its territory.

The fortified U.S. Embassy is located in the Greek Cypriot part of the divided capital, Nicosia, but it maintains a small annex on the Turkish side, known as Lefkosa.

The tension between the president of the self-proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) and Washington is in sharp contrast to the optimism generated by last April’s opening of the Cypriot barricades.

Turkish Cypriots rushed to visit the long-forbidden south, while Greek Cypriot refugees could at least look at the homes they abandoned in the north of the Island after the 1974 Turkish landing. The homes now are inhabited either by Turkish Cypriots or settlers from Turkey.

The more than a million crossings of this island’s dividing line in both directions since April demonstrated that the two Cypriot communities could co-exist without outward hostility or clashes. Area specialists point out, however, that visiting each other does not necessarily mean living together.

The United States appears concerned by the electoral activity in the north — particularly by the reported inflation of voting lists with the names of recently arrived Turkish immigrants, by threats of the “civil-defense corps” loyal to Mr. Denktash, and by his swelling of the civil service in exchange for votes against the three main opposition parties.

Mr. Denktash has denied importing voters or granting hurried citizenship to mainland Turks.

According to official figures, there are, at this stage, 140,832 registered voters in the TRNC — without counting several thousand “recently naturalized” immigrants from Turkey who are expected to support Mr. Denktash.

Mr. Denktash derives much of his comfort — and influence — from his intimate contact with leaders of the Turkish expeditionary corps, now estimated at 35,000. Western diplomats are concerned by the reported pro-Denktash activity by some army officers, as well as by visits to the TRNC by politicians from Turkey.

Such interference, according to one diplomatic assessment, undermines Turkey’s democratic credentials at a time when it seeks approval of its EU membership application.

A typical Turkish Cypriot opposition view — as expressed by Mehmet Ali Talat, head of the leftist Republican Turkish Party — is a desire to resume talks with the Greek Cypriot side to be ready together for European Union membership next May 1.

“We have to seize this opportunity before it slips away,” he said. “There was a timetable, but it was missed. We cannot afford any more delay.”

Mr. Talat’s statements have been backed by a series of street demonstrations in favor of EU membership, considered by many Turkish Cypriots to be the path to prosperity. Some Turkish Cypriots, including Suleyman Erguclu, owner of the daily Kibris, are openly optimistic.

“The opposition parties will win the elections, which means a defeat for Denktash,” he said. “And by next May, we will join the EU together with the Greek Cypriots.”

On the Greek side of the demarcation line, the government spokesman, Mr. Chrysostomides, insists that Greek Cypriots “seek an amelioration” of the Annan plan “but no departure from the plan, and no upset of its federal psychology.”

The opening of the barricades, he said in an interview, “has created a sense of comfort, an easing of tension.”

“It has inspired the Cypriots to find a way to live together,” he said.

He added, however, that while “on the Greek Cypriot side the wish to find a solution is permanent, the problem is with the Turkish side.”

“There is no evidence of good will from the leadership. There is no clear picture or message from Turkey,” he said.

Mr. Chrysostomides insisted that even if there is no breakthrough before the May 1 EU accession, “We will pursue all necessary action that would lead to a solution.” He sees EU membership as beneficial because “Cyprus is our country, but Europe is our future.”

He conceded a number of difficulties in the event of Cyprus joining the EU without the Turkish Cypriots. If that happens, he said, “the entire country becomes an EU member — but in the occupied areas, EU laws cannot be applied. Visas and the demarcation line would become a problem.”

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