President Bush's visit to Greece and Turkey, far from being a mere asterisk to the London economic summit, could open the way to new diplomatic initiatives to solve the Cyprus problem. Rarely have U.S. relations been better (simultaneously) with Athens and Ankara, both of which have the present good fortune to have sensible governments.
The dispute over Cyprus is rooted in centuries-old ethnic differences between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot populations. But the political and territorial division of the island goes back only three decades, to the withdrawal of British colonial control and the consequent emergence of nationalist feelings. With sufficient international pressure and a spirit of accommodation in Greece and Turkey, it is not inconceivable that progress toward a settlement could be obtained.
Thus, the first U.S. presidential visit to these NATO allies since 1959 is well timed. On his arrival in Athens yesterday, Mr. Bush said that though he had no magic wand he hoped to be a "catalyst" -- this year -- in healing "the deep wound that scars Cyprus." He promised continuing U.S. support for United Nations peace efforts.
Both Greece's Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and Turkey's President Turgut Ozal stood by Mr. Bush in the gulf war and have demonstrated their zeal for good relations with the U.S. Mr. Mitsotakis, abandoning the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessor, has signed an eight-year military bases agreement with Washington. Mr. Ozal risked domestic unrest to support the U.S. against a Muslim state (Iraq). His stance marks a historic pivot from a preoccupation with the Soviet threat to the strategic oil diplomacy of the Middle East.
In Cyprus itself, the issues remain intense. From 1963 to 1974, the Greek-Cypriot majority sought union with Greece, or Enosis, a provocation to Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot minority that led to Turkey's 1974 invasion and partition of the island. The result was the uprooting of one-third of the island's population, the occupation of 40 percent of the island's territory by Turkish-Cypriots who represent 20 percent of the population and incalculable economic losses for both sides.
The Greek-Cypriot population, now under the flexible leadership of George Vassiliou, has given up Enosis and would be willing to settle for a bi-communal federation provided there is a substantial territorial adjustment, freedom of movement everywhere on the island and some provisions for the return of lost properties. The Turkish-Cypriot population, still led by the intransigent Rauf Denktash, would have to be pushed by Ankara if a U.N. settlement is to be achieved.
An accord would be in the U.S. interest. It would ease tensions between Greece and Turkey, have a pacifying influence on the Balkans and be in line with U.S. efforts to settle the Israeli-Arab dispute. Mr. Bush is right to go for it.