Rauf Denktash's name is not exactly a household word in the United States. But as head of the Turkish community on Cyprus, he plays a key role in resolving one of the oldest political disputes of the postwar era.
In a Monitor interview Mr. Denktash said he is confident that a reunification plan sponsored by United Nations Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar provides the right framework for ending 23 years of strife between Greeks and Turks on his divided island.
But he says Greek-Cypriot leader Spyros Kyprianou has been a major obstacle to a long-sought political settlement of the Cyprus issue.
``For a long time, Greek Cypriots have been misinforming the world that their country is under invasion by the Turks, that they represent the whole of Cyprus, that they speak for the Turkish Cypriots, that they are the legitimate government of Cyprus,'' Denktash says. ``This fiction has been gaining root at our expense.''
Located in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey, Cyprus has been divided since an invasion by Turkish troops in July 1974. The invasion followed a coup led by Greek military officers aimed at uniting the island with Greece. In 1983 Denktash proclaimed a Turkish republic in the area of northern Cyprus occupied by the Turkish forces. The area is now home to the island's 18-percent Turkish minority. So far only Turkey has recognized the new republic.
In an effort to help reunite Cyprus, Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar two years ago convened indirect talks designed to produce the constitutional framework for a two-zone federation for the island.
Agreement by Denktash to drop demands for a rotational presidency and to reduce the Turkish zone to 30 percent of the island paved the way for the two leaders to meet face to face at the UN in January 1985.
But the talks, the first between the parties in nearly six years, collapsed after Mr. Kyprianou rejected the UN formula. Greek Cypriots say no political agreement is possible until 25,000 Turkish troops, up 25 percent from just a year ago, are removed from the island.
``How can you reach a settlement and not discuss the removal of troops that pose a constant threat to the Greek community?,'' asks Andrew Athens, chairman of the Hellenic American Congress, a major Greek-American organization.
Denktash insists the political and military issues must be resolved as part of a ``package deal.''
The other major sticking point is the matter of a ``guarantee'' by outside powers to protect any future political settlement of the Cyprus issue.
Greek Cypriots, eager to rid the island of Turkish troops, say the job should be entrusted to the UN Security Council. But Turks favor the retention of the present guarantor powers, Britain, Greece, and Turkey.
``Had there been no guarantee by Turkey, Cyprus would have been united with Greece 10 times over and you would not even have noticed that Turks once existed in Cyprus,'' Denktash says.
But Denktash insists that the real obstacle to peace has not been such technical issues as troops and boundary lines. ``It's not the guarantee system. It is not the soldiers. It is the fact that Mr. [P'erez de] Cu'ellar is trying to reestablish a partnership state in the place of what [the Greek Cypriots] have achieved, a completely Greek state.''
The collapse of the UN talks was a disappointment to several Western nations, including the US, which have quietly urged both countries to resolve the conflict that has kept NATO's southern flank weakened.
But Denktash says that by recognizing the Kyprianou government, the Western nations have left little incentive for Kyprianou to come to terms with the Turkish Cypriot community.
``Since the world has accepted them as the legitimate government of Cyprus, why should they share the title with us?,'' he asks.
Denktash, who as a Turkish Cypriot is officially classified by the US as a ``stateless'' person for visa purposes, says the US needs to do more to protect the rights of the Turkish minority on Cyprus.
``The US may not change its policy of recognizing the Cypriot administration that took over title as the government,'' Denktash says. ``But it can certainly afford to say to this regime, `You have no mandate to talk for Turkish Cypriots. Therefore if you do not establish the partnership republic within so many months, it's our duty to treat the Turkish Cypriots on the basis of equality.' ''
He adds, ``The Greek Cypriots must be asked directly, `Do you want a partnership state? If you do, there is no other way; this [the UN draft agreement] is the formula. If you don't, then say so and then Turkish Cypriots will be free to say that since you don't want a federated Cyprus we will have two states side by side. If the two communities agree, they live together. If they disagree, they live separately.''