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US Calls on Cypriot Leaders to Settle Their Differences - 2003-01-15

The United States said Tuesday it supports the goals of tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots who demonstrated in favor of the United Nations peace plan for the divided island. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is holding out for further changes in the U.N. plan.

While avoiding direct criticism of Mr. Denktash, the Bush administration has come down solidly on the side of the throng of Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators who turned out in the Turkish sector of Nicosia Tuesday in support of the United Nations plan.

Mr. Denktash, head of the Turkish-Cypriot republic recognized only by Turkey, opposes U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anna's Cyprus plan because it would mean giving up territory to majority Greek-Cypriots and allow many to return to areas they fled when Turkey occupied the northern third of the island in 1974.

The United States has strongly backed Mr. Annan's peace formula, which has included recent modifications to try to accommodate concerns of both Cypriot communities. In voicing support for Tuesday's demonstration, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he was not intervening in Turkish-Cypriot politics, but rather "getting involved on the side of peace:"

"The very large demonstrations in Cyprus today show that Turkish Cypriots understand the significant benefits of achieving that kind of comprehensive settlement and achieving it now. Obviously, we couldn't agree more," Mr. Boucher said. "The U.N.'s revised settlement plan currently on the table provides a basis for such a settlement. And we believe that a settlement in Cyprus can, and should, be achieved by February 28."

Secretary-General Annan set the end-of-February deadline for agreement by the Greek and Turkish-Cypriots so that both communities can hold referendums on the U.N. plan in time for Cyprus to enter the European Union as a single confederated state next year.

The EU decided at its Copenhagen summit last month that it would admit the internationally-recognized Greek-Cypriot government on its own, if a peace deal cannot be concluded.

While Greek-Cypriot leader Glafkos Clerides accepts the U.N. plan as the basis for a negotiated compromise, Mr. Denktash contends that the formula, as it now stands, would mean the end of the ethnic-Turkish community on Cyprus within a decade.

Spokesman Boucher said the two Cypriot leaders, who resume talks Wednesday, need to "work with urgency" to clear away the reservations both have expressed with the Annan plan.

Mr. Denktash has said he intends to continue the talks in good faith but has little hope of reaching a settlement before the deadline.