20. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1

1302. 1. I think we have reached a stage which warrants reevaluation of some aspects of our policy and tactics dealing with the Cyprus question. Our main concern has been to prevent a situation from developing which would embroil two of our allies, thus precipitating NATO disaster. To this end, our basic drive thus far has been to gain time and keep the Turks from making a military move on Cyprus which the Greeks would inevitably feel bound to counter. We have consequently worked for measures which would effectively suppress violence on the island and thus deprive the Turks of the provocation which might trigger off a legally justified intervention on their part. In order to avoid antagonizing either of these two allies of the US, we have studiously avoided taking a position as to the form or the shape of a final settlement of the Cyprus problem. We have said many times that the solution is a matter for the parties concerned. This was probably the proper stand for us to take at first, but is it right and is it good enough to meet the situation which faces us today?

2. It must no doubt be difficult for the more sophisticated to believe that the US has been willing to accept an important role in the efforts to bring peace to the island without also attempting to form a considered judgment as to how the matter ought to be settled on a long-term basis. In our conversations, PriMin Papandreou has been probing for a US position and obviously does not believe that we do not have one. In fact (as has become increasingly clear during UN debate) our studious avoidance to take a position is in itself a position—one that is inevitably interpreted as favoring the existing set of arrangements rather than acknowledging the pace of events and the impetus to change the agreements which have been established and theoretically govern Cyprus. Moreover, while continuing to adhere to this noncommittal attitude of neutrality on the question of a long-term solution, we have been supporting—in effect if not in words—the Turkish insistence that the Treaty of Guarantee affords the Turks a legal cover for intervention. We are thus inevitably taken to be supporting not only the Treaty of Guarantee but the other aspects of the London and Zurich Agreements as well—in short, the status quo.

3. It has already been vividly and painfully demonstrated that the present arrangements for Cyprus do not work and will in due course [Page 43] have to be changed. In Cyprus, in Greece, and at the UN, the pressure for “self-determination” is increasingly strong. I do not see how the US can ultimately escape agreeing to the application of more self-determination for Cyprus than is presently permitted in the existing arrangements without laying itself open to the charge of moral inconsistency. Only last Saturday the communiqué issued after President Johnson’s meeting with Pres. Lopez Mateos reaffirmed “support of the principle of self-determination of all peoples and of its corollary, non-intervention. They agreed … to promote the acceptance of such principles, not only with words but with deeds, in the Americas and throughout the world.”2

4. Much more will be heard in UN halls and out, from the Soviet and Afro-Asian blocs, and indeed from the Greeks, on the necessity for applying the principle of self-determination to Cyprus. Will it not then become increasingly embarrassing for us to avoid taking stand? In the end our strategy of neutrality (generally interpreted as support of the existing arrangements) will not only hurt us in the UN but spread the wrong impression about US policy around the world. Here in Greece, adherence to this strategy over a long period of time, with the resulting vocal reactions in the press, among the public and in government circles, may do serious and lasting damage to US-Greek relations that will have repercussions more far-reaching than Cyprus.

5. Since it seems to me that we will inevitably be driven to conceding in the end that the present arrangements cannot be made to work, would it not be well to make a virtue of necessity by saying at once that, in our opinion, the agreements will, in due course, have to be altered by negotiations between the interested parties? I believe that this would clear the air considerably, put us in a less uncomfortable position to deal with Makarios, the Greeks and the neutral and Soviet blocs—thus improving the chances for the creation of a peace force—and give some negotiating substance to future discussions between Greeks and Turks. While, in the recent past, the cruelty of the Greek Cypriot irregulars toward the Turkish minority and the deviousness of Makarios have damaged the majority’s case for control by it of the island’s affairs, the fact remains that the Greek Cypriot 82 percent majority has the right to a preponderant voice in determining what the island’s government and policies ought to be.

6. Obviously, the Turks will hardly welcome this evolution in our position. We can, I believe, relieve some if not all of their concern by emphasizing that our position in favor of modifying the agreements is rigidly conditioned on complete protection of the rights of the Turkish Cypriot minority—rights which, however, cannot include a veto over [Page 44] the 82 percent majority’s right to control its foreign affairs, defense and taxes. This guarantee of the rights of the minority would, in the first stage, have to be insured by the presence and appropriate authority of an international force. Such a force would have to stay on the island long enough to make sure, for the future, that the Government of Cyprus would not and could not use the principle of self-determination as a means of destroying or oppressing the Turkish minority.

7. While the course of action proposed may not curb overnight the neutralist and leftward drift of the island’s present government, I believe that it would somewhat restore the position of the West in Cyprus and make the island a less open target for Communist intrigue and penetration. It would make it easier for the US to maneuver amidst changing events. Our first step ought to be an acknowledgement that the present arrangements have less chance than ever to become workable in practice. (The setting up of the London conference and the subsequent Anglo-American suggestions for appointing a mediator implied, in a sense, that changes were needed.) Our main goal should continue to be the elimination of communal strife through the dispatch of an international force or in any other way that might appear practicable. Looking further ahead, it may be that, in the end a NATO guarantee or some other form of association of the island with the West will become desirable and feasible—for a Cyprus remaining a permanent apple of discord between Greeks and Turks would continue to be a grave threat to Western and US interests.

8. The foregoing observations and recommendations have been set down in full awareness that

A shift in our public position in the direction of self-determination will be taken as a victory for Makarios (who bears such heavy responsibility for the present impasse), and
That if the Turkish minority were to continue to be permitted to retain a degree of control over the island’s affairs out of proportion to its voting strength, it might help frustrate neutralist and leftist tendencies on the island. (The Greeks, of course, argue forcefully that continuation of present situation is driving Cyprus into Communist arms.)

Although these considerations are important and must be weighed, I firmly believe that the United States stands to lose less by modifying our position along lines suggested.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–8 CYP. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Ankara, Nicosia, London, and USUN. Relayed to the White House, CIA, JCS, OSD, CINCEUR, and CINCSTRIKE.
  2. For full text of the statement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964, Book I, pp. 303–305.
  3. Telegram 880 from Nicosia, February 29, endorsed Labouisse’s arguments, adding that the United States “should not abandon hope of finding basis of cooperation with Greek Cypriots” that would permit a settlement protecting the legitimate interests of both Cypriot communities. In telegram 906 to Athens, March 4, Ball responded that while Cypriot constitutional arrangements appeared unworkable, the United States continued to insist that changes could not come through Security Council actions. (Both in Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–8 CYP)