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DIPLOMACY

U.N. Presses for Cyprus Solution

Secretary-General Kofi Annan brings Greek, Turkish rivals together amid hope for end to impasse on divided island.

July 11, 1997|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMENIA, New York — In one of the United Nations' more novel stabs at diplomacy, two long-standing enemies are meeting this week amid the sylvan isolation of a 442-acre resort in eastern New York to try to end the 23-year-old military standoff over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf R. Denktash have been installed at Troutbeck, a sprawling stone house set among 200-year-old sycamores and modeled on an English country manor.

Troutbeck, 94 miles north of Manhattan, is a favored locale for country weddings (the resort's slogan is "love at first sight") and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to broker if not a love match then a marriage of convenience between the two old adversaries.

The attempt to craft a permanent political solution for Cyprus, partitioned along a U.N.-patrolled truce line since 1974, is one of three negotiating initiatives the new secretary-general has launched to try to resolve seemingly intractable international conflicts. Annan is also tackling the trouble spots of: the Western Sahara of North Africa, where Morocco and the rebel Polisario Front have maintained a cease-fire under U.N. auspices for six years; and East Timor, the former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia since 1975.

In two instances, a heavy-hitting American diplomat also is involved. Richard Holbrooke, the former State Department official who engineered the Dayton, Ohio, peace accords that ended fighting in the Balkans, is serving as President Clinton's special envoy to Cyprus; James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, is Annan's representative at the Western Sahara talks.

U.N. officials concede that all the initiatives face long odds. But as Kieran Prendergast, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, says: "If you don't risk anything, you can't succeed."

The Cyprus impasse probably offers the most hope, U.N. sources say. A plan by the Clerides government to deploy Russian-built ground-to-air missiles next year prompted threats by Turkey of a preemptive airstrike and reawakened interest in a settlement by the U.S. and Britain, which formerly ruled Cyprus as a colony.

Perhaps more significantly, Cyprus is seeking admission to the European Union--a move that could lift the island's economy but will not occur, EU members have said, without a political settlement.

Friction between Turkey and Greece over control of the island has long been a problem for the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, since the two feuding countries guard the alliance's southeastern flank.

The issue also has hung over the U.N. for most of the world organization's life span. In his welcoming remarks to Clerides, 78, and Denktash, 73, Annan noted that both men had been at the first U.N.-sponsored talks on Cyprus 29 years ago.

The U.N. maintains a 1,200-member peacekeeping force on Cyprus at an annual cost of $50 million. It was put in place after Turkey's 1974 invasion, which was triggered by an unsuccessful attempt to annex the island by the military junta that then ruled Greece. Turkey retains control of the northern part of the island with a 35,000-member garrison, but no other nation recognizes Denktash's government.

U.N. officials say Ecuadorean diplomat Diego Cordovez, the Annan-appointed mediator for the talks, will press for a federation on Cyprus that would retain some political representation for both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

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Even the most optimistic observers do not expect an immediate breakthrough. Talks are scheduled to end Sunday and resume later this year in Switzerland.

The 250,000-square-mile Western Sahara is claimed by both Morocco and the Polisario Front, which is supported by Algeria. Neither side has been willing to go forward with a U.N.-sponsored referendum in the region, as proposed in the 1991 agreement that ended a 17-year desert war. Baker met with representatives of both sides last month in Lisbon, and further talks are expected.

Jamsheed Marker of Pakistan, Annan's special envoy on the East Timor talks, brought the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Portugal to U.N. headquarters last month to begin negotiations, and more meetings are expected.

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