WASHINGTON -- President Bush announced yesterday that Greece and Turkey will join a peace conference next month to resolve the bitter dispute that has divided the island of Cyprus for at least 17 years, provided there is "adequate progress" in preliminary talks under way.
The announcement, which came during a White House news conference, indicates that the latest campaign to settle the Cyprus problem, launched by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and backed by the personal diplomacy of Mr. Bush, is beginning to pay off, according to foreign diplomats and U.S. officials.
Mr. Bush, who urged Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and Turkish President Turgut Ozal to help reunify the divided island during visits to Athens and Ankara last month, touted the prospects for peace on Cyprus as an important "byproduct" of the Persian Gulf war.
The gulf crisis, which began a year ago yesterday, helped shift the focus of U.S. security policy from easing Cold War tensions to settling regional conflicts and also gave new momentum to a U.S. proposal for a peace conference in the Middle East, the president told reporters.
"Most significantly, on this Aug. 2, we note that two new opportunities for peace have emerged as a byproduct of our efforts in the gulf," Mr. Bush said, referring to the Middle East and Cyprus.
"Greece and Turkey have agreed to attend a meeting concerning Cyprus," Mr. Bush said. "This meeting would be well-prepared and both convened and chaired by the United Nations secretary-general under his Security Council mandate.
"Greek and Turkish leaders will work in support of the secretary-general's efforts in advance of the meeting, planned for September in the United States, provided that adequate progress is made narrowing differences before then," he said.
Administration officials said later that they were hopeful that the parties would seize the opportunity and narrow the gap on several key issues to assure that the peace conference achieved its intended result. They identified these issues as territorial adjustments," the fate of Greek Cypriot refugees, security guarantees for the Turkish Cypriot minority and the constitutional arrangements for federation.
The officials said they "fully expect" that leaders of the Turkish and Greek Cypriots -- Rauf Denktash and George Vassiliou, respectively -- would participate in the conference.
Whether other parties come to the table -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, for example -- will be up to Mr. Perez de
Cuellar and may prove to be a troublesome issue in coming weeks. The secretary-general made it clear after talks in the region June 27 that the format of the meeting would be critical to its success.
Bulent Aliriza, a Turkish Cypriot spokesman in Washington, applauded Mr. Bush's apparent support for so-called "four party" negotiations among Greece, Turkey and the two Cypriot sides but declared that any widening of the conference would be "unacceptable."
"If we go beyond that and we have an international shindig, we won't go," Mr. Aliriza said. "Our position is that the Security Council members do not need to attend."
Miltos Miltiades, a spokesman for the Greek Cypriot government, which favors a larger conference, said "consultations" with Mr. Perez de Cuellar and the Security Council were in order before any final decision on the number of participants.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar, a former U.N. special representative to Cyprus, has been trying to reunite Cyprus under a federal system of government. Both his special representative, Oscar Camilion, and the State Department's trouble-shooter for Cyprus, Nelson C. Ledsky, have been in the region this week to lay the groundwork for a settlement.
Cyprus has been divided since July 1974, when Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island after a coup in Nicosia, engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece.
In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara. The rest of the island is dominated by Greek Cypriots, closely aligned with Athens.
The latest round of talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities broke down last year.