Congressman Pallone returns from Cyprus
Vows To Continue Support In Congress For United, Free Cyprus
Washington, D.C. --- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) recently returned from his first visit to Cyprus where he had the opportunity to meet with most of the island nation's political leadership and addressed the Conference of the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA).
Pallone started his visit last Wednesday morning by meeting with the Mayor of Nicosia, Michael Zambellas, at City Hall and briefly touring the Old City by car. Mayor Zambellas explained that Nicosia remains the last divided city in the world despite the ability of citizens to cross the green line for the first time in 30 years. Pallone praised Nicosia's Mayor for his efforts to restore the old city and encourage Cypriots to return.
"Mayor Zambellas sets the example by living within the shadow of the Green Line, and starting construction of a new City Hall and government complex immediately adjacent to Turkish occupied Cyprus," Pallone said. "He is determined to preside over a united Nicosia before his term ends."
The New Jersey congressman spent the early part of Wednesday afternoon at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia meeting with Ambassador Michael Klosson and other embassy staff.
"Ambassador Klosson was very optimistic about the prospect of reaching a peace settlement pursuant to U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan's proposal," Pallone said. "He still seeks to accomplish this by May 2004 when Cyprus officially becomes part of the European Union. The ambassador cited the freedom of movement across the Green Line, the rally in the Turkish occupied area in support of the U.N. plan, and the upcoming fall elections in the Turkish zone as reasons for optimism. He stressed the U.S. was playing a major role in trying to assure free and fair elections scheduled for December in the Turkish zone."
The PSEKA Conference officially began at the Hilton Park Hotel last Wednesday. In his speech before the conference the New Jersey congressman stressed the significance of the lobbying efforts of PSEKA's President, Philip Christopher, as well as the work of Savas Tsivicos, Pallone's constituent who first got him involved in Greek and Cypriot issues more than a decade ago.
"The bottom line is the Diaspora, through Congress, pushes the president and the State Department to be more supportive of a free and united Cyprus, and in turn puts pressure on the Executive Branch to force Turkey's hand," Pallone said during his speech.
Pallone described his efforts in Congress to get the Bush administration to play a greater role in pushing Turkey to adopt the U.N. plan and subsequently to place blame for the breakdown of the peace talks squarely on Denktash and his supporters in Ankara. The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously April 10th on House Resolution 165 stating that the Turkish Cypriot leader's refusal to put the Annan plan to a referendum resulted in the collapse of the U.N. led peace initiative.
The New Jersey congressman stressed Congress' support for Turkey has considerably diminished in the aftermath of the Iraq War, although he is optimistic that the Annan plan can still be the basis for a negotiated settlement if enough pressure is put on the Turkish government by the U.S.
"Turkey's greatest error this year has been its refusal to support the U.S. war in Iraq," Pallone observed. "I cannot exaggerate the negative impact on U.S. relations, particularly with the U.S. Defense Department, long the bulwark of American support for Turkey. The U.S. Congress support also suffered tremendously because most of my colleagues believe that Turkish intransigence contributed to the loss of American lives.
"The Diaspora can obviously play a role in trying to persuade the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to exert more pressure on Turkey," Pallone continued. "The timing could not be better. Turkey is trying to improve its relationship with the U.S. and might be receptive to showing its support for a negotiated settlement. And Turkey is taking steps, at least officially, to meet EU demands for membership, which ultimately include a settlement of the Cyprus question."
Pallone began his second day in Cyprus at the Presidential Palace calling on Tassos Papadopoulos, president of the Republic of Cyprus, and then heading to the Cyprus Parliament complex to meet with the President of the Cyprus Parliament, Demetris Christofias.
"President Papadopoulos' major concern is to provide for a negotiated settlement in order to achieve a united free Cyprus as quickly as possible," Pallone continued. "In that regard, he mentioned two important dates--May 2003, when Cyprus officially joined the EU, and December 2004, when the EU is expected to make a decision on a timetable for Turkey to negotiate an accession agreement. I pledged to him that I would do my best to get the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to convince the EU that a Cyprus settlement be a condition by the EU towards Turkey's accession."
"Christofias' meeting was most informative to me on the issue of the British bases in Cyprus," Pallone said. "I was frankly unaware of their existence, and was very upset to find out they were not leased from the Republic, but instead considered foreign territory by the British. That's simply not acceptable to me. The British should establish a timetable for when the territory should be returned to Cyprus, and then negotiate an agreement with Cyprus as to their future use as military bases."
Thursday, after lunch, Pallone went on a walking tour of the Green Line with Nicosia's Mayor, and climbed the wall at the end of the Old City's main commercial area where he could peer over into the Turkish occupied zone. He then visited the small municipal museum and saw the photos of the missing from the 1974 invasion. Mayor Zambellas also accompanied Pallone to the Municipal Art Centre in the Old City.
Pallone spent the rest of the afternoon traveling to Lefkara, located about one hour south of Nicosia, where he visited the municipal building and then toured various shops in the city to purchase the famous Lefkara silverware.
He returned to Nicosia in the early evening to meet with Cyprus' Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Iacovou. He ended his trip with a reception at Mayor Zambellas' home where the mayor and his wife showed the Congressman their excellent collection of Cypriot paintings.
"It was a wonderful trip. I learned a lot that I could use in my ongoing efforts to achieve a free and united Cyprus. I also experienced Cyprus' incredible cultural heritage and took back some high quality handicraft souvenirs. I look forward to returning to Cyprus for another visit soon," Pallone concluded.