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By George Papandreou

George Papandreou is the foreign minister of Greece.

ATHENS -- The visit last week to Cyprus by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan indicates a new political will to solve the tragic division of the island.

Although the U.N. has repeatedly called for a unified Cyprus, after 28 years, Turkey continues to occupy a third of the island with more than 30,000 troops. This forced division has created distrust and tension between Greece and Turkey. On Cyprus, it has left many Greek Cypriot refugees bitter, having lost their property and loved ones. It has victimized the Turkish Cypriots, who have become isolated ''citizens'' of a pseudo-state recognized only by Turkey.

Some people talk of carving Cyprus into two states. Others talk of a double union with Turkey and Greece. Still others propose hybrid solutions where quasi-separate states would create a quasi-unified Cyprus with a weak central government. These so-called solutions raise serious problems, some ethical (legitimizing the results of an invasion); some practical (creating a state that simply wouldn't function); and some geopolitical (bringing Greece and Turkey into constant friction).

All these proposals are based on mistaken assumptions: that there is an inherent inability for Greeks and Turks to live and work together; that protectionist intervention is imperative; and that Turkey needs Cyprus for its military interests.

Cyprus will soon become a member of the European Union; final negotiations on accession will take place in December 2002. If the U.N. can facilitate a solution, a free and united Cyprus will join a united Europe. If not, the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus will join as a whole, leaving out the Turkish Cypriot community.

Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, claims an independent, unified Cyprus in the EU would result in the Greek Cypriots dominating the Turkish Cypriots. Yet the EU requires that new members be consolidated democracies, with specific provisions to protect all citizens. Moreover, Greek Cypriot President Glafocs Clerides is prepared to accept a solution that guarantees broad domestic rule for both sides.

The benefits of a European solution for the Turkish Cypriots are obvious. Their participation in EU institutions will be guaranteed. They will reap the benefits of EU structural funds and, later, membership in the euro zone. The EU has prepared a peace package of nearly 200 million euros to support their integration. Turkish Cypriots will become a link between the EU and Turkey. According to polls, more than 90 percent of Turkish Cypriots want to become EU citizens. Isn't it time their voices were heard?

EU membership calls for one central government with the authority to participate in collective decision-making. Solutions that disguise separatist intentions would not only stoke tension between Greece and Turkey but also undermine an enlarged EU's ability to make effective decisions, as Cyprus's internal deadlocks could impede consensus.

Greece has chosen Europe as the path forward, which will lead us beyond historical divisions in the Balkans and Cyprus. That is why Greece voted to make Turkey an official EU candidate in Helsinki three years ago. Greek-Turkish relations have consistently improved since then. From disaster relief to earthquake-stricken areas, we extended our cooperation to energy, agriculture, education, cross-border cooperation, illegal migration and ridding our borders of anti-personnel mines. Trade has doubled and tourism has tripled. Turkey has supported Greece's effort to revive the Olympic Truce in the 2004 Olympic Games. We have jointly bid to co-host the 2008 European Football Championships. A solution on Cyprus will solidify this process; failure will undermine it.

Greece and Turkey can play an important role for stability in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. My recent visit with the Turkish foreign minister, Ismail Cem, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat highlights the opportunities to promote regional peace. Similarly, Cyprus recently helped resolve the deadlock over Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

In conclusion, I propose: Let's stop making Cyprus a center of Greek-Turkish rivalry; let's not play big brother to our respective communities; instead, let's empower them to work cooperatively. Rather than dividing us with its artificial Green Line, Cyprus can become a showcase of unity and cooperation between Greeks and Turks, Christians and Muslims. We owe it to the next generations of Cypriots and to the prospect of wider peace in the region.

(c) 2002, Global European Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/22/02)

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