Bush enters Turkish-Greek Cyprus feud U.S. offers to broker for two NATO allies

July 19, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's arrival in the Aegean yesterday placed him between two crucial U.S. allies who are at each other's throats over Cyprus -- a conflict Mr. Bush would now like to see ended under his "New World Order."

The Cyprus blood feud has soured relations between Greece and Turkey and bedeviled U.S. efforts to establish an easy rapport with the two neighboring NATO members since the Turks invaded the island 17 years ago tomorrow.

The Persian Gulf war, in which the two nations gave separate support to the allied effort, convinced the Bush administration it was time their island dispute in such an explosive part of the world was ended and NATO's southeast flank solidified.

It also reshuffled the pack of political influence in Washington. The Greek lobby, considered second only to Israel's in power and money here, now confronts a Turkey that proved its reliability as a U.S. ally during the gulf crisis and expects recognition of its effort.

The Turks hope that their war effort will help offset the Washington clout of the 2-million-strong Greek community in the United States, which has one senator -- Maryland's Paul S. Sarbanes -- and four representatives in Congress. The Turks -- hardly represented politically -- often have felt that their support for U.S. policy has been met with ingratitude.

There is now no appetite in the administration or on Capitol Hill to resort to the sort of arms embargo Congress imposed on Turkey after its 1974 invasion of the island, although Greek Cypriot supporters recently called for such a move to pressure the Turks into withdrawing their troops from the island.

Administration officials say their prime interest in resolving the conflict is to forge a new relationship with Turkey as President Turgut Ozal looks increasingly westward for his country's future. They also want to improve their ties with Greek's current conservative government after years of strain with Socialist Andreas Papandreou.

On the global scale of things, the enduring Turkish-Greek standoff over Cyprus is a minor problem. It should be easily solved, but repeated peace initiatives have collapsed on the brink of agreement.

Turkish invaders from the mainland seized the northern third of the island in 1974 after the military junta in Athens backed an abortive coup in Nicosia, which the Turks feared would lead to the island's formal union with Greece. The Turkish and Greek parts of the island have remained separated.

In 1983, Rauf Denktash, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, declared total independence.

In the years leading up to the island's independence from Britain in the 1960s and then its violent division in the 1970s, the United States, in the words of one official, "watched from the sidelines."

"Some people say we were too much on the sidelines," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Cyprus is not central to the United States, and its only importance relates to our own relationship with Greece and Turkey."

President Bush carries no new blueprint for peace with him, but his message to both Greek and Turk is the same: compromise.

Said the official: "His trip is not to badger people. It is not to deliver people into starting boxes [for negotiations]. We just want to help reconcile Greek and Turkish differences. It does mean moving both sides off the dime. It means resolving a number of issues that have been impossible to resolve over the last 15 to 20 years."

Each side wants the United States to put pressure on the other to end the conflict: The Greeks want Mr. Bush to persuade Turkey to end its military "occupation" of the northern third of the island; the Turks want him to convince the Greeks that they have to treat the minority Turkish Cypriots as political equals.

Conversations with the two sides reflect the difficulties Mr. Bush faces.

Greek Cypriot Ambassador Michael E. Sherifis hopes that Mr. Bush's efforts will hasten the day when he can return to his home in the Turkish-controlled area of Famagusta. He said yesterday: "I haven't been able to visit it for 17 years. This is unacceptable to anyone really, isn't it? And like me, there are 200,000 others [Greek Cypriots deprived of their homes when they fled the Turkish invasion].

"On our side, we are ready for a solution. With the decision by President Bush and the administration to play a significant role in the search for a solution, and considering that they can have considerable influence in Ankara, I believe now there are real possibilities.

"Ankara, the Turkish government, is the one that can really decide that the time is ripe for a solution."

Bulent Aliriza, representative of the Turkish Cypriot side, takes exactly the opposite view. "The dispute is one that is caused by the Greek

Cypriots' inability to accept the idea of power-sharing on the basis of political equality with the community that shares the island with them," said Mr. Aliriza.

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