NEW YORK.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Leading members of the Greek-American community had meetings on Wednesday, in Washington, with US officials at the White House and the State Department focusing on efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. They met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, US president George Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, US undersecretary of State for political affairs Mark Grossman and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and called for substantive changes to the Annan plan in order to make it more functional.
Taking part in the meetings were World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) president Andrew Athens, Cyprus Federation of America president Peter Papanicolaou, International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) president Philip Christopher, Andy Manatos from the Coordinating Effort, Cyprus Chamber of Commerce chairman Andreas Komodromos, AHEPA vice-president Fraglinos Manios, and Pancyprian Association of America executive vice-president Nikos Mougiaris.
GreekNews has learned that US officials were adamant on the need for a solution to be found until May 1st. According to a source knowing what it was discussed, Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley warned that if the parties fail the deadline, Cyprus will be placed to the back burner for at least the next decade.
Philip Christopher confirmed to GreekNews the US position.
“Their position is after May 1st all bets are off. They consider the next 4 months critical and that this opportunity will never come again for a permanent solution”.
The president of PSEKA thinks that between now and May the Cyprus Government will be facing pressure.
“There is no question in my mind that both the State Department and the National Security Council want a solution by May 1. They want a united republic to enter the EU. And of course our position is that we do not think that for interest of the USA, first, the United States to be looked upon as a country that is putting pressure for a solution that may not be viable and second, even if Cyprus enters the EU by May 1st , it is not the end of the world. Since Turkey has until December for a date, Turkey has to show the necessary flexibility”.
Colin Powell told the Greek American leaders that there is a golden opportunity between now and May and that the Kofi Annan has to be pushed.
“He told us expects our support to bring a solution to the 30 year old problem of Cyprus. I pointed out to Mr. Powell that we appreciate his efforts and that although the Kofi Annan Plan was accepted as a basis of negotiations, changes have to made in order to have a more functional government. We support those type of changes that would assure the people of Cyprus both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, of a long term solution, rather than a solution which is to be pushed and pressured upon the Cypriot people. We pointed out that the idea of a referendum as a precondition to negotiations is not acceptable and that it would be a major mistake to continue to push that and that we felt that any referendum should be held after the negotiations”, Mr Christopher added..
The meetings took place one week before the crucial White House talks between President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan.
“We pointed out to the administration officials that President Bush should stress to Prime Minister Erdogan the desire of the United States for a solution of the Cyprus problem. But also we expressed our concerns and disappointment, because Mr. Erdogan seems to speak two languages. One when he is outside of Turkey, meeting with leaders in Europe, and a different language, while in Turkey and especially from remarks he made in the occupied areas during his last visit. Therefore we asked the Administration to really put Mr. Ertogan to the test and find out exactly what are the positions of Turkey”, told GreekNews, Peter Papanicolaou.
The president of Cyprus Federation of America thinks that definitely President Bush will express his desire to Prime Minister Erdogan that the negotiations on Cyprus should start. I think everybody-in the administration thinks that there is a window of opportunity to work hard and achieve a solution before May 1. We explained to them that the position of our community is that we wholeheartedly want a solution, but this solution and this process should not be based on the desire of the Administration to elevate the picture of Turkey in the EU, but based on negotiations. The two sides should sit down and have serious negotiations and agree on a solution based on the Annan Plan. We have also detailed to them that certain things in the Annan Plan we strongly believe that they should be negotiated and change and that we strongly object the idea of supporting the condition of the S-G to going to a referendum before the two sides come into agreement”, he added.
After Colin Powell left the meeting, the Greek American delegation had a detailed discussion with Undersecretary Marc Grossman, particularly on the issue of the protection of the property of Greek Americans in the north.
“We pointed out tha regardless of what the solution may be, the American citizens are demanding to have the right to return to their homes, to live there, to sell and to buy. The discussion was fruitful”, said Philip Christopher, who thinks the US officials understood our position.
“This is an election year and the Greek American community can be very instrumental. I think they understood that if President Papadopoulos asks for changes those changes should be discussed”.
Peter Papanicolaou expects for the next few days a lot of diplomacy and a lot of trips and meetings going on.
“And by the beginning of February we’ll see whether the negotiations will start or not . We just hope that Turkey changes its positions”, he concluded.
Prior to the discussions, the delegation met separately with US Senator Paul Sarbanes and Cyprus Ambassador to the U.S. Euripides Evriviades. At the end they saw Michael Bilirakis, chairman of the Hellenic Caucus and set in a motion for a letter from members of the Hellenic Caucus to go to President Bush prior to the visit of Prime Minister Erdogan. Mr Bilirakis and the Hellenic Caucus they will also introduce a congressional resolution, calling upon US government to safeguard the property of the American Citizens in occupied Cyprus.