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US Backs Annan Attempt to Resolve Cyprus Issue - 2003-03-01

The United States has put its weight behind what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says is a last ditch effort to resolve the Cyprus issue. Mr. Annan wants the Greek and Turkish communities on Cyprus to put his peace plan to a vote at the end of March, and says otherwise he'll abandon his settlement efforts.

Bush administration officials have shared Mr. Annan's frustration over the failure of the Cypriot parties to finalize his plan for a Swiss-style federation between the ethnic-Greek and Turkish parts of the island. And they are offering the United States' full support to what the U.N. chief warns will be his final effort to resolve the nearly 30 year long dispute.

In talks with the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot leaders Friday in Nicosia, Mr. Annan invited both to meet with him March 10 in the Hague. He asked the two sides to report at that time whether they accept his call for simultaneous referenda on the U.N. peace plan March 30. Mr. Annan said if no agreement is reached at the meeting, he will end his long running efforts to broker a deal.

The United States has also sought to mediate the dispute through its special envoy for Cyprus, Thomas Weston. At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials are encouraged that the Cypriot leaders accepted the March 10 meeting and hope they will agree to the referenda as well. "We believe that the United Nations' revised settlement plan presents a just, viable and durable solution to the division of Cyprus," he said. "Putting the plan to a referenda is the most democratic and constructive way to determine the future of the people of Cyprus. We think Cypriots should have a chance to say yes to their future, together and in Europe. This is an opportunity that may not come again."

The ethnic-Greek side has accepted the U.N. plan as a basis for a settlement, but the Turkish-Cypriot side has resisted its terms, which would involve among other things, the transfer to the Greek sector of about eight per cent of the island's territory.

Though Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has balked at the plan, spokesman Boucher noted Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators in favor of the U.N. formula said they make clear that many Cypriots "fervently desire" a solution.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish forces seized the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-engineered military coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the island with Greece.

The international community has intensified pressure on Cypriots to resolve the conflict so that a reunified island can sign an agreement in April for entry into the European Union next year.

If the efforts fail, the EU says it will admit only the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot side, which would raise regional tensions and worsen the economic plight of the self-styled Turkish-Cypriot republic recognized only by Turkey.