The Cyprus Question and Greek-Turkish Relations
By the National Committee on U.S. - Greece RelationsLetter to President Clinton
June 11, 1998
THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE
June 11, 1998
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
Dear Mr. President:
We take this opportunity to express, with utmost urgency, our deep concern over U.S. policy in the eastern Mediterranean, specifically regarding the Cyprus question and its impact on Greek-Turkish relations.
We are deeply distressed over a deteriorating situation that is descending towards war between Greece and Turkey if your administration does not correct its misguided policy of the past five years. The opportunity for a peaceful, just, and lasting solution in Cyprus is before you. If war breaks out between our NATO allies over Cyprus, your administration will bear considerable blame.
The impending crisis revolves around the continued Turkish occupation and division of Cyprus, which is acquiring an anti-aircraft defense system as a deterrent against potential Turkish air attacks. Your administration's relentless criticism of Nicosia's acquisition decision over the past seventeen months has opened the door to escalating Turkish threats to prevent delivery of the weapons or to attacks the weapons site upon installation. Greece has vowed to defend Cyprus against a Turkish attack with a military response. Clearly, this is a prescription for disaster.
The White House and State Department suggestions that the deployment of the defensive weapons would complicate negotiating efforts would be far more credible if your administration publicly voiced objection to Turkey's illegal military occupation forces. By focusing instead on Cypriot defensive weapons, your administration has obscured the truly destabilizing impact of the Turkish occupation on Greek-Turkish relations and the region at large.
In fact, the occupation army was thoroughly upgraded during the mid-1990's, without comment or apparent concern by your administration. When the level of Turkish militarization reached a level unacceptable to Nicosia, your administration chose to criticize the legitimate government of Cyprus for its act of self-defense.
Meanwhile, Turkish threats to destroy Cyprus' defensive missiles continue unabated. The State Department's policy of equivalence between Cyprus' sovereign right to self-defense and Turkish threats to attack Cyprus is outrageous. Recent department statements referring to the threats merely as “a mistake” or “unproductive,” while the ongoing Turkish occupation of Cyprus is effectively ignored, are unacceptable. Such policies signal the Turkish General Staff that its potential violent actions against Cyprus will bear no consequences.
As a member of NATO aspiring to join the European Union, Turkey should understand that military threats to political problems are completely counter to basic Western and democratic principles. This is a fundamental reason the European Union will not accept Turkey in the near future and a key to desperately needed internal reform. Turkey's reaction to Cyprus' EU accession process only dramatizes that need.
Nicosia's eventual membership in the EU offers a unique opportunity to reach a Cyprus settlement that will benefit Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike. In fact, Turkish Cypriots have far more to gain economically from EU membership, given their long-standing comparative plight.
Having Cyprus accede with the participation of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots can generate the perceptual breakthrough needed to build stronger EU-Turkish ties, and improve Greek-Turkish relations. Helping reach a just solution in Cyprus would lift the albatross of Turkey's status as an aggressive occupier and accelerate its own hopeful EU accession process.
Instead, Turkey's angry criticism of the European Union and blunt threats against Cyprus offer clear examples of the self-inflicted obstacles generated by the General Staff's utter dominance of all aspects of Turkish foreign policy.
As a union of free-market democracies, the European Union maintains clear membership criteria, including defined economic performance levels and respect for democratic principles, human rights, and international law. Regarding Turkey's application, the EU has requested that Turkey resolve its differences with Greece based on international law, and reach a Cyprus settlement in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, among other conditions. Instead of using the European decision to deliver the right message to Ankara – that compliance with EU conditions was in Turkey's self-interest – your administration urged the European Union to conform to Turkish obstinacy.
An excellent opportunity to persuade the General Staff to reform Turkey's political system was thereby wasted, and the U.S. continues to be perceived as supporting a system whereby civilian officials serve at the behest of the military, rather than the other way around.
Mr. President, we recommend instead four workable ideas that will strengthen your administration's policies in the region, help bring the parties together, and build on current opportunities to resolve the Cyprus question, much as your administration helped to bring peace in Northern Ireland.
First, the administration should convey to the Turkish General Staff, the ultimate arbiter of Turkey's contributions to a Cyprus solution, that the U.S. considers Turkish threats to attack Cyprus to be unacceptable, and that any such attack, if carried out, will have serious consequences for U.S.-Turkish relations.
Second, the administration should publicly endorse the withdrawal of all foreign military forces from Cyprus, in line with concurrent resolutions overwhelmingly approved by bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in July, 1997. Removing Turkish and Greek forces will remove regional security issues from the Cyprus negotiation process and bring greater focus on Cyprus' domestic political concerns, such as achieving a "bizonal, bicommunal federation" under a single Cypriot sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, as your administration has repeatedly supported.
Third, the administration should support the unconditional accession of Cyprus to the European Union under objective, established guidelines. Cyprus' economic and political conditions meet, and in many instances surpass, those of current EU members. By linking Cyprus' EU accession to that of Turkey, which the union is reluctant to admit in the near future, your administration has effectively granted Turkey de facto veto power over Cyprus's entry.
Fourth, the administration should call for the abandoned city of Famagusta to be turned over to U.N. control for reconstruction and repopulation. The city in its current state serves no interest to Turkey. Allowing for the development of this historic, once-thriving port city would be an important gesture by Ankara towards reconciling the divided communities in Cyprus, and would bring closure to an ongoing and utterly pointless issue nearly resolved by President Clerides and Rauf Denktash only a few years ago.
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke's latest attempt to break the Cyprus impasse was met with Turkish intransigence that has fueled a sense of despair. Reckless talk in Washington that possible hostilities in Cyprus can serve a useful purpose as a catalyst for a dramatic negotiating breakthrough has been encouraged by your administration's acquiescence of Turkish threats, and the continued refusal to condemn any planned acts of violence or war. A Greek-Turkish war that might start over Cyprus can destabilize the eastern Mediterranean region, tear apart the delicate Dayton-enforced peace in the Balkans, and threaten the viability of the NATO alliance.
Mr. President, there is no better time to re-evaluate your administration's policies in the eastern Mediterranean. Wide, bipartisan congressional support exists right now for a solution based on “international law, the provisions of relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, democratic principles, including respect for human rights, and in accordance with the norms and requirements for accession to the European Union.” In this light, we should encourage the European orientation of Turkey, but not at the expense of NATO ally Greece, not of Cyprus, and not against the fundamental principles of Western democracy we share with our other allies in the European Union.
We are ready, as always, to meet with you and assist your administration in the effort to fashion a new policy towards the troubled eastern Mediterranean region that will secure peace and stability among Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Greeks, Turks, and Cypriots alike deserve to enjoy the fruits of European security and prosperity within the larger family of nations. Your historic opportunity to bring peace and security to Nicosia, as you did in Belfast, will elude you if you do not redress U.S. policy immediately.
(See attached list of individuals endorsing this letter. Organizations are listed for affiliation purposes only)