WASHINGTON — IN the spirit of creating a "new world order," diplomatic activity has picked up toward settling the 17-year division of Cyprus. On Capitol Hill last week, a senior State Department official asserted a new push by the United States to reunite the Mediterranean island. On April 15, Secretary of State James Baker III met with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Both President Bush and Secretary Baker have raised the Cyprus issue in recent meetings with Turkish President Turgut Ozal.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar expressed hope last month about making progress on Cyprus in a report to the Security Council. And the European Community has heightened the priority of the issue, following Cyprus's application to join the EC.
Cyprus has been divided into Greek and Turkish sectors since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the name of protecting the island's Turkish Cypriots from a radical Greek-Cypriot regime.
"I personally am optimistic that in the next months we have a chance of at least reaching the first plateau of a Cyprus settlement, something that has eluded us since 1974," said Nelson Ledsky, the State Department's special coordinator for Cyprus, in congressional testimony.
Ambassador Ledsky cited four reasons for optimism:
* Statements by the Cypriot government that it is prepared to work toward a solution - assertions that Ledsky says he believes to be sincere.
* Cooperation by the Turkish government and by Mr. Denktash in working with the UN secretary-general on a draft outline of how a new federation for the island might be set up.
* A final push by Mr. Perez de Cuellar. The secretary-general has been associated with the Cyprus issue for 15 years, including three years in the late 1970s as the UN's special representative on Cyprus, and he is particularly keen to achieve at least interim progress before he finishes his term as secretary-general in six months.
* The US administration's "determination," Ledsky said, to act as a catalyst in support of the secretary-general.
* Ledsky said the US hopes the UN draft outline can be drawn up by the middle of this year, and followed by a meeting in New York of the secretary-general, Mr. Denktash, and Greek-Cypriot President George Vassiliou in June or July. Such a meeting could pave the way for a formal negotiation over a new constitution and treaty of guarantee.
Thus far, however, neither the Greek-Cypriots nor the Turkish-Cypriots have made any concessions on the draft outline.
According to another US official, some examples of concessions from the Greek-Cypriots would be granting of a Turkish security guarantee, allowing some kind of continued presence of Turkish troops on the island (there are currently 3,000), and the granting of political equality to the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish-Cypriots, for their part, could offer a territorial settlement or a refugee return.
In the Senate hearing, Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware voiced concern that Turkey might get "time off for good behavior," following its support for the US-led alliance in the Iraq crisis.
In remarks here, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, Denktash, said the Turkish side is not trying to take advantage of the goodwill Turkey fostered by its Gulf war position, but that if it helps the Turkish-Cypriots, "then we are lucky."