The United States is appealing to the parties to the Cyprus dispute to accept the revised United Nations settlement plan in advance of the European Union's summit meeting in Copenhagen later this week.
Calling it a "defining moment" in the troubled history of the island, the Bush administration is appealing to both Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to summon up the political courage to accept the revised U.N. plan, so that Cyprus can enter the European Union as a reunited republic of two component states.
The United Nations envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, presented the modified settlement proposal to the Cypriot parties on Tuesday only two days before the EU summit in Copenhagen which is expected to admit 10 new countries including Cyprus into the community as of 2004.
If there is no political deal by then, the economically-thriving ethnic Greek part of the island will join the EU on its own, leaving the less prosperous Turkish side out of the picture, and possibly dashing hopes for any early resolution of the conflict that has split the island since 1974.
At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the new version of the settlement plan tabled last month by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reflects concerns of both sides, and should lead to a rapid agreement.
"We think this revised proposal contains important changes representing significant improvements for both sides," Mr. Reeker said. "This is really a defining moment, and as we've said before, as Secretary Powell has said, it's an opportunity when history can be written by courageous leaders with vision. And we continue to urge at the highest level on both sides to seize this historic opportunity to reach a settlement before the European Union makes its decision on enlargement at the Copenhagen summit later this week."
Years in the making, the settlement plan of Mr. Annan envisages a "Swiss-style" confederation of two equal Cypriot states. The revisions since last month are reported to include a reduction in the number of Greek Cypriots who would be allowed to return to their homes in the north, along with a reduction in the number of troops allowed on the island.
Northern Cyprus was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in the wake of a coup in Nicosia sponsored by the then-military government in Athens seeking to unite the island with Greece.
The ethnic-Greek Republic of Cyprus, which makes up two-thirds of the island's territory, enjoys broad international recognition while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey.
Secretary-General Annan appealed to both sides to give the revised plan urgent consideration, but initial responses were not encouraging.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash dismissed the document as a re-hash of the previous one, which he said fails to deal with his community's concerns about its sovereignty and equality with the Greek side.
Greek Cypriots have been somewhat more receptive to the plan, though government officials in Nicosia were confronted by ethnic Greek refugees and others protesting the U.N. initiative late Tuesday when they held urgent consultations at the official residence of President Glafkos Clerides.