- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

Breaking his silence

The recent Turkish proposal to deal with the tangled ethnic deadlock on Cyprus deserved more than a dismissive gesture from the Greek and Cypriot governments, the Turkish-Cypriot administration’s representative in Washington said yesterday.

Osman Ertug said he was tired of sitting quietly while Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias and Cypriot Ambassador Euripides L. Evriviades called the Turkish proposal a warmed-over diplomatic distraction.

“These proposals are not new. They were also made last May and led nowhere,” Mr. Mallias said last week.

Mr. Ertug, in an e-mail to Embassy Row, said he decided to break his silence after reading about the ambassadors’ reaction to the Jan. 24 proposal from Turkey.

“I remained largely silent as the Greek and Greek-Cypriot envoys kept disparaging the latest initiative by Turkey. … This is mainly because I did not want to engage in polemics with the other side when we should be engaged in serious dialogue on how we can move forward after almost two years of deadlock caused by the Greek-Cypriot rejection of the Annan plan of April 2004,” Mr. Ertug said.

Greek-Cypriots rejected the plan proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, while Turkish-Cypriots strongly endorsed it. The Turkish-Cypriot response drew praise from the United States and European Union and pledges to ease the diplomatic isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which only Turkey recognizes.

The Turkish plan called for opening Turkey’s ports and airspace to the Greek-Cypriot government in exchange for a similar status for international travel to the TRNC. It did not address the presence of 35,000 Turkish troops that have been in the TRNC since 1974 when a Greek military dictatorship supported a coup aimed at merging the island with Greece.

Mr. Ertug said, “What is important here is not how old or new the plan is but whether it has substance.”

He acknowledged that the plan repeated offers made last year but added a proposal for a “specific” timetable for U.N.-sponsored four-party talks with Greek, Greek-Cypriot, Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot negotiators.

“Our Greek-Cypriot counterparts should know that there is no such thing as something for nothing and that Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot side have done everything they could do to break the deadlock on Cyprus,” Mr. Ertug said.

Saudi cartoons

The Saudi ambassador condemned the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have outraged the Arab world, but tried to justify offensive cartoons in Saudi newspapers that showed Jews with hooked noses and Nazi symbols over the Star of David.

Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that cartoons in Saudi newspapers were a reflection of Arab anger at Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians.

“Of course I think they are offensive,” he said, after Mr. Blitzer displayed several cartoons on Sunday’s “Late Edition.”

“And if I were in charge of the newspaper, I would not let that happen.”

He added, “You have to take into account, though, that the issue of Palestine and the unresolved issue of Palestine is a generator of most of this feeling that we have in the Arab world, particularly toward Israel.”

Saudi newspapers are privately owned, but the top editors can be dismissed by the Ministry of Information, the State Department says in its latest human rights report.

On the cartoons that have led to riots in several Arab countries, Prince Turki denounced the drawings as “absolutely horrible depictions of the prophet Muhammad, a man esteemed not just by Muslims but even by non-Muslims.”

He faulted “both sides” for the violent demonstrations, in an apparent reference to the cartoonists and the rioters.

“And on both sides, I think there must … be quiet and a return to talk rather than … burning down or looting or stoning of buildings.”

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

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