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Rice Meets Turkish Cypriot Leader

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Friday with Mehmet Ali Talat, head of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The meeting was part of a U.S. effort to ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community after it supported the failed U.N. settlement plan for Cyprus last year.

The United States does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has been recognized only by Turkey, and officials here say the Secretary met with Mr. Talat only in his capacity as a leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community.

But the half-hour meeting was none-the-less a visible sign of U.S. support for the Turkish-Cypriot community after it voted overwhelmingly in favor of the U.N. settlement plan, only to see it rejected by the Greek-Cypriots.

Ms. Rice posed for pictures with Mr. Talat at the start of the meeting but made no comments.

Afterwards, Mr. Talat said the discussion had been fruitful and very constructive, and urged a continuation of U.S.-led efforts to ease the isolation of the Turkish community, short of political recognition:

"We want a solution to the Cyprus problem," said Mr. Talat. "We want to unify our island. And in the meantime, lifting the isolation will lead to unification, to a solution so we asked from the United States to continue their path, their line, of supporting the lifting of isolation of Turkish Cypriots, and further encourage the other countries, the other international organizations, to take similar steps."

The Turkish Cypriots approved the U.N. plan by a 65 percent margin.

But the majority Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the plan at the urging of officials of the Nicosia government, because it would limit the right of Greek Cypriots to regain property in the north lost after Turkish troops invaded in 1974.

It also would have allowed settlers from the Turkish mainland to remain on the island along with some Turkish troops.

Mr. Talat said the settlement plan of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is still on the table and thus he remains committed to it. He said if the Greek-Cypriot side wants to make some changes, it should propose them.

Ms. Rice's meeting with Mr. Talat was the first time a Secretary of State has formally received a Turkish-Cypriot leader in Washington.

However former Secretary of State Colin Powell met him last year in New York, and former Secretary of State James Baker had a brief meeting with longtime former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in 1990.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Rice-Talat meeting underscores American support for pro-settlement political forces on the island, and that U.S. policy aims to promote reunification by reducing economic disparities between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Since last year's referendum vote, the Bush administration has, among other things, eased financial restrictions for Americans doing business in northern Cyprus, and has also allowed U.S. citizens to legally transit through the main airport there.

Mr. Talat met with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Tuesday before coming to Washington and he is to meet U.N. Secretary-General Annan in New York Monday.