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Powell to Hold Unprecedented Meeting with Turkish Cypriot Leader - 2004-04-30

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet next week with the prime minister of the self-declared Turkish republic in northern Cyprus. The unprecedented gesture is to express appreciation for Turkish-Cypriot support for the United Nations settlement plan for Cyprus, which was scuttled by Greek-Cypriot voters April 24.

U.S. officials say the administration is not considering formal recognition of the Turkish-Cypriot republic, which is recognized now only by Turkey.

But Mr. Powell's meeting with the prime minister, Mehmet Ali Talat, will significantly raise the profile of U.S. contacts with the northern Cyprus administration, which have until now been limited to unofficial, mid-level meetings in neutral venues.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said the meeting is indicative of a U.S. desire to build relationships with the Turkish Cypriot community and to recognize their support for the U.N. plan, which the United States had strongly backed.

Mr. Talat personally had worked hard in support of the settlement formula negotiated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, even though the Turkish-Cypriot president, Rauf Denktash, had opposed it.

The Annan plan, providing for a loose federation of the two communities, was supported by 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriot voters in the April 24 referendum but rejected by more than three-quarters of Greek-Cypriot in a parallel vote.

The outcome means that only the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government in Nicosia is entering the European Union this week.

At a news briefing Friday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States will follow the lead of the EU in providing aid, and perhaps other benefits, to the Turkish Cypriots to help offset their exclusion from the community.

"We're reviewing our policy, the full range of our policies. We've been following closely and keeping in touch with the European Union as they've announced some of their actions," he said. "We would expect to take steps that are similar and consistent with the actions that our European colleagues are taking. I think, obviously, one of the areas that one of the areas that we do want to look at is how to ameliorate the economic condition of the Turkish Cypriots."

The European Union said earlier this week it will provide more than $300 million to boost the economy of the Turkish republic, which lags far behind that of the Greek side, and will ease the passage of goods across the so-called "green line" that has divided Cyprus for three decades.

U.S. officials have said the Bush administration may channel to the Turkish Cypriots some of the $400 million it had pledged to help a united Cyprus, had the U.N. plan been approved.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983, nine years after Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island following a coup in Nicosia by military officers seeking to unite the island with Greece.

The senior diplomat said Mr. Powell would likely meet Mr. Talat next Tuesday in New York, where the Secretary is to take part in a meeting of the international "quartet" on the Middle East, which includes the United States, Russia, the EU and the United Nations.

In a related development Friday, President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Cyprus in a telephone conversation.

A White House spokesman said they expressed "shared disappointment" over the Greek-Cypriot rejection of the U.N. plan, and noted their support for efforts by the EU and others "to lessen the economic isolation" of the Turkish community.

The spokesman said President Bush praised Mr. Erdogan's leadership in helping secure the Turkish Cypriot referendum vote, and that they expressed hope for the eventual reunification of the island as outlined in the Annan plan.