Counterproductive U.S. Actions Thwart Solution Of Cyprus Problem
By Carolyn Maloney and Michael Bilirakis
As co-chairs of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, we are puzzled by the State Department's recent decision to meet with the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat.
The Bush Administration seems to have lost its way on the tragic issue of the division of Cyprus, a country that for more than thirty years has had its northern third occupied by Turkey's military.
Despite the fact that many in the international community continue to seek a solution, Turkey recently upped its troop level on the island to 43,000
and its government, as well as the representatives of the Turkish-Cypriot community, have begun making alarming references to the possibility of a two-state solution rather than a unified country.
Although longstanding U.S. policy towards Cyprus has been to support the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus and to support the reunification of the island, the State Department has reacted to the escalating intransigent moves and rhetoric by opening its doors to a political leader who essentially represents a proxy of the Turkish invaders. This proxy - recognized only by Turkey - calls itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC").
Secretary Rice recently sat down with Mr. Talat to discuss the political situation in Cyprus. The Administration claims the meeting does not alter existing U.S. policy. But its actions are inevitably being used by Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots to claim that the "TRNC" is being upgraded, and will serve as a disincentive for the Turkish side to negotiate towards a unified Cyprus. We fail to see how such a meeting helps lead to a peaceful and sound resolution of the long-time Cyprus problem.
Dealing directly with Mr. Talat and giving him the sense that he represents a separate political entity paves the way for him and his Turkish backers to promote a two-state solution, undermining the genuine efforts of the government of Cyprus to pursue reunification.
Cyprus has been a steadfast ally of the United States. It has joined U.S. efforts to crack down on money laundering. It eagerly engaged in President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative by providing easy access to its commercial maritime fleet. In the lead up to the war in Iraq, Cyprus agreed to Coalition military over-flights and landing rights.
More recently, Cyprus shared the view of its EU partners and the U.S. that Turkey be allowed to start negotiations to enter the European Union (EU). Cyprus could have blocked Turkey's accession talks by utilizing its veto power. But Cyprus chose to let the process start, in the belief that a combination of both the EU course and further talks in the United Nations is the best way towards reaching a balanced solution to the decades-old Cyprus problem.
And what was the reaction of Turkey and the U.S. to Cyprus' good faith efforts?
Turkey continues to block Cyprus' membership in important international organizations. It signed a protocol to extend an EU-related Customs Union to the 10 new EU member states, while simultaneously disclaiming any recognition of Cyprus. Further, just last month, Turkey's Prime Minister said he would only accept a solution on Cyprus that included a permanent division of the island based on two states.
And the U.S. reacted with an invitation to Washington.
The U.S. action is not an isolated incident. Ever since the April 2004 referendum in which the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus rejected a flawed UN plan in a free and fair vote, the U.S. has enmeshed itself in a confused policy to somehow "reward" Turkish-Cypriot voters, who accepted the plan, and "punish" the Greek-Cypriot voters who rejected it.
The Administration's actions, culminating with the Rice-Talat visit, serve only to undercut reunification efforts. It should support a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem - to be resolved in the forums of the UN and the EU - and not confuse it through counterproductive U.S. actions that contradict its stated policies.
Representatives Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and Michael Bilirakis, R-FL, are co-chairs of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus.