Is Cyprus America's Problem, or Europe's?

Though the United States has in the past had some influence over Ankara, because of Turkey's position in NATO, that role is shifting toward the European Union.

Turkey's bid to join the EU was first put forward in 1963, but it was snubbed by the EU late last year over issues including Turkey's human-rights record, doubts over democracy, and cultural differences.

Though Turkey may want to curry favor with the EU, the fact that the ethnic Greek government of Cyprus will begin EU membership talks soon is deemed another stumbling block. The talks will not include the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Turkey.

Still, the US role remains large. Sure to play a part in turning a "window" into real hope will be US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who arm-twisted Serb, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim leaders into signing the Dayton peace deal in the former Yugoslavia in late 1995.

Long-simmering ethnic conflicts with regional impact - largely written off by others - seem to be Mr. Holbrooke's specialty. But his sporadic visits to Cyprus so far have caused many Cypriots to grumble that he is not serious about forging peace here.

"If reason prevails, this is going to be a critical period for everybody," says Gustave Feissel, the UN chief of mission here. "Now it should be more obvious than ever to each of these players that failure is detrimental in every way, and carries a high cost.

"Holbrooke comes with a reputation that he can walk on water, because of his work in Bosnia, so he is not going to risk getting his feet wet over here by not finding a solution," Mr. Feissel says. "In 1998, we are approaching a defining moment. If this effort is a flop, we will then be moving up a different road."

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