31. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Cyprus Situation


  • US

    • Secretary of State-designate Cyrus R. Vance
    • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary, EUR
    • Nelson C. Ledsky, Director, EUR/SE
  • Cyprus

    • Glafcos Clerides, Cyprus Political Leader


Clerides said he was still optimistic that a negotiated Cyprus settlement could eventually be reached. He agreed that the next four months presented opportunities to get the negotiating process restarted and urged that this chance not be lost. He endorsed the idea of sending a US envoy to the area, as the first step in developing US proposals which, following coordination and support by the EC–9, could be inserted into the negotiating process. Clerides felt that only with this kind of external stimulus could negotiations be kept from bogging down in the kind of procedural disagreements that have prevented meaningful talks from taking place since February 1976. Secretary-designate Vance explained that we had reached no specific conclusion as to how to proceed, but we were looking for ways to be helpful in facilitating movement toward a Cyprus settlement.

A. Current Situation and Future US Actions

After recalling that they had last met in Rome in 1975 to discuss Cyprus,2 Mr. Vance asked Mr. Clerides to describe the current situation on the island.

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Clerides said he was anxious about the atmosphere. A climate of optimism had been created by the American elections, and everyone on the island now expected some movement in the next few weeks or months. It was important that this optimism not be totally disappointed by a further indefinite stalemate.

Clerides recalled the strong anti-US feeling that had gripped the island in 1974. This feeling had now begun to disappear, but it could return at any time. The United States must be careful not to create the impression that it can bring about a solution by waving a magic wand, yet there should be no inertia either. There is a growing feeling, which Archbishop Makarios shares, that either progress will be registered in the next few months or Cyprus will enter a long period of stagnation. Clerides explained that he did not completely share the Archbishop’s view on this point, but he, too, believed that the next few months were important and that the opportunities they presented should not be lost.

Mr. Vance agreed that the over-optimism on the island was potentially dangerous and could lead to disillusionment. Miracles were not possible. Nonetheless, the US had a strong interest in seeing that progress toward a solution begins to be made. Mr. Vance then asked Mr. Clerides’ opinion as to whether it might be useful to send an envoy to the area to assess the situation on the ground, and make an evaluation of what might be done by the new Administration.

Clerides thought this an excellent idea. His only reservation was that the envoy not go out to learn the views of the parties in an unstructured way. If this were done, the parties would tell him only what they had told others, and nothing would have been gained. There have been countless study missions and general reports on Cyprus already. What had to be made clear to the parties before the envoy traveled was that the envoy wanted to know in concrete terms the precise limits of each side’s position. In this way, the envoy could come back with some rough idea of the margins, within which solutions on individual points were possible.

Mr. Vance explained that he had reached no specific conclusions as yet as to how to proceed, but that we were looking for ways in which we might be helpful in laying a foundation for facilitating movement toward a Cyprus solution. In this connection, he asked for Clerides’ views as to whether the US should proceed alone, ask the Europeans to do something separately, or consider some form of US-European initiative.

Clerides said he favored a joint venture involving the US and the EC–9 powers. He was not sure how this would work in practice, but suggested that after the US envoy visited the area, and developed a plan of action, consultation should begin with the Europeans to insure that the US plans had the full support and approval of the EC–9.

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B. The Nature of a Settlement

Mr. Vance noted at this point that US-EC–9 cooperation had occurred in 1976 in connection with the five-point principles paper.3 He wondered whether this had been a productive exercise and whether that document had contained anything useful from a Cypriot standpoint. Would something along the lines of this paper still be helpful?

Clerides said that the five principles had some usefulness but had been looked upon with great mistrust in Cyprus because they were viewed as a product of an unfriendly Administration. This kind of a document might be of some help if the points in it were expanded and reformulated.

This exchange led to a more general discussion of what might constitute a just settlement from a Cypriot standpoint. Clerides said the only feasible—even if not entirely just—settlement will almost certainly involve a bizonal federation. At the same time the current Turkish zone in the north had to be reduced. Percentage figures themselves were not as important as the question of how many refugees could return to the areas the Turks vacated. Clerides noted, for example, that while New Famagusta and its environs represented less than 1% of Cyprus, the area could absorb as many as 40,000 Greek Cypriots. There were also other areas in the north with high absorptive capacity.

As for a future central Government, Clerides said there would have to be meaningful participation by both communities without absolute numerical equality. In the 1960 constitution the Turks were given veto powers on foreign policy, defense and internal security questions. These vetoes made the system unworkable. What was required now was Turkish equality in the formulation and not the execution of policy. Mr. Vance agreed that it should be possible to devise a constitutional system that would make this possible. Clerides recalled in this connection that when the subject of immigration had been discussed orally at one point last year, Denktash had said there could be a joint immigration board composed of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots who would pass on applications. Clerides felt a similar system might be devised for the management of ports and airports as well. Mr. Hartman noted that as far back as 1974, former Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit had spoken along parallel lines.

Clerides observed, however, that two basic difficulties remained in the constitutional area. The Greeks wanted to preserve a federation, whereas the Turks wanted to create a confederation. While the difference was in part semantic, it was evident that the Turks wanted the Central Government to have as little power as possible, whereas the [Page 118]Greek Cypriots wanted the opposite. The second area concerned whether the religious leaders could hold positions in government. If the Turks insisted on writing into a new constitution that Cyprus can only be a lay state, there will be no settlement. Makarios may some day of his own accord resign, but he will never sign any agreement which prevents the church and those occupying places in it, from playing a direct role in state affairs.

C. The Situation in Northern Cyprus

Mr. Vance asked Clerides for his evaluation of Denktash. Was he free to take positions on his own, or was he under the firm control of Ankara?

Clerides answered that at the start of the negotiations two years ago, he had the impression that Denktash’s hands were firmly tied by Ankara. As the talks went on, however, it became evident that Denktash had considerable freedom on some issues. On occasion he proved even more difficult than the Turkish Government. This much was clear: Denktash was unable to undertake any initiative without the permission of Ankara, but Denktash clearly could not be forced to do something by Ankara against his wishes.

Clerides said the economic situation in the north was most unfavorable. The Turkish Cypriots had been unable to organize anything properly. There was substantial unemployment, and the standard of living had declined markedly since 1974. Still, there was uncertainty in Clerides’ mind as to what political effect this would have. The economic situation might serve as pressure on Denktash to reach an accommodation with the Greek Cypriots, but it was also possible it might move him in the direction of issuing a unilateral declaration of independence.

As for Turkish colonization of the north, Clerides said Greek Cypriot estimates were that some 30,000 Turks had been brought to the island thus far. Mr. Hartman noted that we were not sure whether these Turks were permanent settlers or were being rotated into and out of Cyprus as temporary workers.

Mr. Clerides explained that an even more serious problem was the expulsion of Greeks from the north. These expulsions were proceeding daily, despite promises made by Denktash to the UN Secretary General as long ago as last April.4 Clerides conceded that Turkish pressure was only one of many reasons the Greek Cypriots in the north lived under extremely difficult conditions. Schools were inadequate and once families send children south to school, they cannot return, even for holidays. There are no doctors left in the villages, and hospital care throughout the north is very poor. Moreover, when one or more [Page 119]Greek-Cypriot families move to the south, Turks are immediately placed in their houses, thus creating a kind of psychological pressure for the remaining Greek Cypriots to begin thinking of leaving also. There was also, Clerides noted with satisfaction, a vibrant economic situation in the south which clearly attracted Greek Cypriots. The southern economy had bounced back in an amazing way, so that the per capita income of Greek Cypriots in the south today equals the per capita income of all Cypriots in 1974.

D. Future Negotiations: The UN Role

Clerides said he remained optimistic that a negotiated settlement could be achieved. He still felt that most Turkish Cypriots were not content with the current situation and wanted a solution which would reunite the island in some way.

Mr. Hartman then enquired as to Clerides’ evaluation of the UN’s role to date. Had UN Representative Perez de Cuellar proved helpful in moving the parties toward negotiation?

Clerides responded that for most Cypriots, including Makarios, it was imperative that whatever proposals were made and solutions reached, they had to be fed through the UN machinery. This was essential to make them acceptable in Nicosia. As for de Cuellar, he was an excellent diplomat but was somewhat over-cautious and conservative, and, given the necessity he felt to get instructions on all points from New York, it was difficult for him to be creative as he had to be if anything is to be accomplished.

Clerides was also pessimistic about the result of an early meeting between Denktash and Makarios. Clerides said he had discussed this subject with Makarios last Friday in Nicosia. Makarios believed the Denktash letter mildly formulated, and had accordingly decided to accept the invitation for a meeting.5 Word of that acceptance had been [Page 120]passed orally through UN Representative de Cuellar. The Archbishop had intended to propose that rather than meet at the Ledra Palace, as Denktash had suggested, a luncheon be arranged at de Cuellar’s residence in the Greek-Cypriot side of Nicosia. Clerides said he had suggested to the Archbishop that a second possibility would be to have the meeting at UN headquarters adjacent to Nicosia airport. In this way, Denktash could helicopter to the meeting from the Turkish sector of Nicosia. Clerides said it was his impression that both of these ideas had been passed on to de Cuellar.

Clerides thought the Denktash letter, which he said he had not read, had not suggested a substantive discussion of the Cyprus problem, but only the establishment of “links” between the two sides. When it was pointed out to Clerides that the letter again referred to the possibility of setting up a transitional regime to carry the two communities through the period of negotiation, Clerides responded that if that was the case, there would be only one meeting, for Archbishop Makarios would have nothing to do with this idea. Hartman observed that the Denktash letter provided a basis for a meeting, and that the opportunity should not be lost.

Clerides agreed, noting that the last substantive discussion of the Cyprus problem had occurred almost one year ago, in February 1976.

Mr. Vance recalled that when he had spoken to the current Greek-Cypriot intercommunal negotiator in New York some six weeks ago, the negotiator had explained that the two sides were bogged down continuously with procedural disagreements.6 Clerides said the problem was the Greek Cypriots wanted to discuss territorial issues first to see what they might get back, but the Turks would only talk about territory at the end of the negotiations, when the Greeks had confirmed their acceptance of a bizonal federation with a weak central government.

Mr. Vance suggested that a way could be found around these kinds of procedural hurdles. The US did not underestimate the difficulty of doing so, but felt that some new effort to facilitate the negotiating process should be attempted.

Mr. Clerides observed that so long as matters are left to the two sides, it was almost certain that procedural difficulties would develop. It was essential that concrete proposals be formulated by outsiders, and given to the parties as a basis for discussion. In order to make proposals which are realistic, however, it is imperative that the outsiders have a clear idea of what the actual positions, and not the public stance, of the parties are. It is for this reason that a US envoy should go to the field, [Page 121]and obtain specific information, from which a proposal or series of proposals could be developed.

E. Publicity

Mr. Vance concluded the conversation by thanking Clerides for expressing his views so concisely and clearly. The two agreed to say as little to the press as possible about the conversation. Clerides said he would see Makarios after he returned to Nicosia but would give the Archbishop no details of what was actually discussed. It was agreed that in response to enquiries, both sides would say merely that there had been an informal exchange of views between friends of long standing which took place before Mr. Vance assumed the position of Secretary of State.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance NODIS Memcons, 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Ledsky; approved by Twaddell on January 31. The meeting took place in Vance’s office. Clerides traveled to Washington specifically to meet with Vance.
  2. No record of this meeting was found. Vance was then a private citizen, serving as President of the New York City Bar Association.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 3.
  4. The correspondence is detailed in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1976, pp. 284–286.
  5. Denktash’s letter was not found; see footnote 5, Document 84. Denktash and Makarios met in Nicosia on January 27 and February 12 under UN auspices. The first meeting was described in news reports as a “surprise” which broke 13 years of silence between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. (John K. Cooley, “Makarios, Denktash, in Surprise Talks,” The Christian Science Monitor, January 28, 1977, p. 4) The leaders agreed that the key to a solution for Cyprus was to keep the island an independent, bi-communal, and non-aligned federal republic. The second meeting, which was mediated by Pérez de Cuéllar and Waldheim, delved into more specific issues. The meeting produced what became known as the “Makarios-Denktash Guidelines,” consisting of four principles: “1. The two sides are seeking an independent, non-aligned, bicommunal federal republic. 2. A territorial division between the federated areas would take into account their economic viability and land ownership. 3. Questions of freedom of movement and settlement are left to further discussion. 4. A central government would be established with the task of safeguarding the unity of Cyprus on the basis of its bicommunal nature.” (Borowiec, Cyprus: A Troubled Island, p. 126) In telegram 20561 to USNATO Brussels, January 29, the Department reported the details of the first meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770032–0248) The second meeting, which was mediated by Waldheim, is described in telegram 438 from Nicosia, February 14. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770052–0593)
  6. No record of this meeting was found.