- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

In closed-door meetings at the recent U.N. General Assembly session, Secretary of State Colin Powell held meetings with Greek and Turkish foreign ministers to discuss a their dispute over Cyprus, and these ministers also met with one another. These Cyprus talks have been held year after year at the margins of U.N. meetings. This time, the conflict is more relevant for the United States and the prospects for resolution more promising.

Cyprus is primarily inhabited by people of Greek and Turkish descent. In 1974, after a short-lived coup which aimed to make the island part of Greece, Turkey invaded the island, occupied about 37 percent of it (Turks were then 18 percent of the population) and set up a militarized dividing line. Since 1974, Turkey and Greece have repeatedly come close to war over Cyprus. A peace blueprint drafted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would create a unified Cypriot state, requiring the official Greek government in Cyprus to give up considerable power, and the Turkish side to cede significant territory.

The Cyprus issue matters to the United States — primarily because Greece and Turkey are both NATO allies. Furthermore, Europe insists that Turkey join in resolving the Cyprus problem before it can join the European Union — an important prospect for America, since it would expand Western-style democracy into the Middle East. But stability in Cyprus itself is also a priority, given its strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean and proximity to Iraq. Some U.N. staff are currently doing Iraq-related administrative work in Cyprus, waiting to be deployed to Iraq. And a unified Cyprus could facilitate trade between the Middle East and Europe.

Working to resolve the Cyprus dispute is a unifying initiative for America and Europe. The joint effort won’t heal the rifts created over the Iraq war and ongoing trade quarrels, but it does create goodwill. And the Cyprus issue has a reasonable chance of being resolved relatively soon. While talks have been shelved for now, elections in Turkish Cyprus for the legislature, which is recognized only by Turkey, could pave the way for a referendum on the Annan peace plan. Also, Greek Cyprus will be entering the European Union on May 1, while the Turkish side can enter the union only if it reaches a peace deal — a prospect sure to hurry things up. The Bush administration is correct to invest diplomatic resources on the Cyprus issue. A foreign policy coup for America and Europe, and a better future for Cypriots, appears within sight.

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