- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cyprus backs Turkey

While still accusing Turkey of illegally occupying part of its territory, Cyprus is, nevertheless, strongly supporting Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, the Cypriot ambassador in Washington said.

“We are extending the hand of friendship to Turkey in the hope that we may move forward,” Ambassador Euripides L. Evriviades said.

He also expressed hope that his government’s decision to support Turkey will help improve relations with the Bush administration, which was angered when Greek-Cypriot voters in April rejected a United Nations plan for the reunification of the island.

Turkish-Cypriot voters strongly endorsed the plan, bringing promises from Washington and the European Union of better relations with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.

Mr. Evriviades said his government decided against exercising its veto as an EU member to block the EU decision last week to begin membership talks with Turkey.

“We did not wish to stand in the way of Turkey bettering itself,” the ambassador explained. “We hope that this will help lead to a new climate in relations between our two countries and usher in a new era of cooperation, understanding and prosperity in our region.

“Also, our constructive stance regarding Turkey’s European path may help improve relations between Cyprus and the United States that — despite our otherwise excellent cooperation in many areas such as combating international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — currently experience certain difficulties due to a number of actions taken by the U.S. after last April’s referendum,” he said.

The Greek-Cypriot authority, the internationally recognized government of Cyprus, called the U.N. plan weak on several issues, including compensation for property lost when the island was divided and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Turkish-Cypriot region.

The Cypriot government calls the Turkish presence an occupation, while Turkish-Cypriots say the troops protect them from potential violence from Greek-Cypriots. Turkish diplomats privately acknowledge that they will have to withdraw their troops before joining the EU.

The Cypriot ambassador said his government maintains its “full commitment” to the reunification of Cyprus as a “bizonal, bicommunal federation” and believes that Turkey’s admission to the European Union will help reach that goal.

“We wish to show the world that we can rise above the immense challenges of our long-standing differences and move forward on a fair and balanced path for peace and stability,” Mr. Evriviades said.

“We hope that one of the eventual outcomes of this process will be a united Cyprus, free of foreign troops, for the benefit first and foremost of all Cypriots.”

Afghans ‘love us’

Afghans love Americans but fear Washington might withdraw its troops if they capture Osama bin Laden and the remnants of the former Taliban regime, according to the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in Washington this week that the United States or NATO might keep troops in Afghanistan for the “long term” to provide security.

“They still love us there,” he said, adding that public opinion polls show that 70 percent of Afghans approve of the presence of U.S. forces.

“The only fear they have about the United States is a fear of abandonment — that we will not stay the course indefinitely, that we will do as we did after the Soviet departure and will say, ‘The Soviets have gone. … We’ll see you.’ That’s what their fear is.”

Mr. Khalilzad said the Bush administration is deciding about the future of the 18,000 troops there.

“That’s being looked at,” he said. “There may be, either in a NATO context or in a bilateral context, some residual presence indefinitely.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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