60. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Cypriot-Turkish Negotiations


  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Robert M. Gates, NSC Staff
  • Ambassador Nicos G. Dimitriou of Cyprus

Ambassador Dimitriou , responding to Mr. Aaron’s greeting, said that he was trying to be optimistic but was not hopeful that the Turks would be responsive to Greek-Cypriot concerns. He noted that President Kyprianou had had a good meeting with President Carter and that they were now waiting to see what would happen. The Ambassador said that his government had turned to the UN.

Mr. Aaron observed that going to the UN was a waste of time.

The Ambassador said that Cyprus must apprise the UN that the problem on the island remains. He said his government hoped that after discussions at the UN there might be some movement.

Mr. Aaron replied that the only progress toward a negotiated solution would be through sustained talks.

Ambassador Dimitriou countered that the Turkish proposal does not offer the possibility of a meaningful dialogue. For President Kyprianou [Page 211] to meet with Denktash, the latter needs to agree to certain pre-conditions, including the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus and agreement on certain principles. The Ambassador said that the US must understand that his government had been burned several times in talks with the Turks which had failed. He said that his government did not want the same type of negotiating merry-go-round.

Mr. Aaron stated in response that talks were the only way to get a settlement.

The Ambassador asked for Mr. Aaron’s views, particularly whether he thought the Turks would make concessions along the lines agreed by Makarios and Denktash (for example, withdrawal of Turkish troops).

Mr. Aaron said he could understand the political problems involved and particularly the difficulties imposed by the presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus. But he cautioned that pre-conditions for negotiations never lead to anything productive. The US believes the only answer is for the intercommunal talks to start and for the negotiations to be kept going. In these circumstances, there might be an important role for the UN Secretary General. But broader UN consideration of the problem would not help.

The Ambassador noted the UN General Assembly recognition of the Cyprus problem and related Security Council resolutions. He added that the General Assembly has taken specific note of the fact that the resolutions are not being observed.

Mr. Aaron replied that this would not get the troops out.

The Ambassador said that his government is committed to placing the issue in the hands of the UN. He contended that it is not a choice between the UN or intercommunal talks—noting that both forums might be used.

Mr. Aaron responded that the UN approach is only a prescription for delay and it will not advance the cause of a settlement.

Ambassador Dimitriou responded that his government had no choice but recourse to the UN—although he realistically had to note, as one commentator has put it, that UN resolutions are like checks for which there is no bank to honor.

Mr. Aaron asked when the dialogue could get started.

The Ambassador responded that the UN debate likely will be finished by mid-November with another resolution likely the result. He then asked to what extent the US would pressure Turkey to make concessions.

Mr. Aaron responded jokingly that the US has about as much leverage with Turkey as with the Ambassador’s government. He said that the US certainly will help where it can and will offer its good offices, [Page 212] but warned that pressure will not work. He said that the sides must get their talks going, define problems and issues and in so doing bring matters to a point where other countries such as the US can use their influence on specific points—rather than to make broad overtures generally condemning one side or the other. He continued that only in this way can the US help to break the barrier between the Turks and the Government of Cyprus. He emphasized again the need to get a sustained discussion going first, and reiterated that commitments in advance or pre-conditions simply will not work. The application of US pressure in such circumstances is similar to using a lever without a fulcrum.

The Ambassador observed that a change in the Turkish attitude had been predicted by the US if the embargo were lifted, but in fact there had been no sign of change. He asked if the US is prepared to abide by the conditions of the law. He noted that the President has avowed in his reports to the Congress that the Turks are making a good faith effort toward a settlement.

Mr. Aaron responded that the Turks like the Cypriots are not willing to make concessions before talks. He added that the Greek-Cypriots are not negotiating from weakness. He observed that there is a great deal of pressure on the Turkish to do the right thing, but they do not have to do it if the Greek-Cypriots will not even start talking. The Turks are prepared to start talking and if the Greek-Cypriots want an agreement, then they must start talking.

The Ambassador agreed that dialogue is essential but said that preceding rounds of discussions had presented chances for progress that had not been fulfilled. He said this prior experience accounted for Greek-Cypriot reservations about further talks. He said that they need some indication of what the Turks are prepared to do on Cyprus, even if such indications are behind the scenes. He concluded that another round of talks ending in stalemate would only aggravate the situation on the island.

Mr. Aaron said that in essence the Ambassador was saying the Greek-Cypriots need talks.

The Ambassador replied that his government has affirmed the desirability of talks, but that all the signals they see about the prospects for such talks are negative. He suggested that there is too wide a gap between the parties now for progress and that exploratory talks are needed. The Ambassador continued that the Allies have been unwilling to press Turkey in this regard.

Mr. Aaron responded that there is nothing specific to pressure the Turks about. He repeated that pre-conditions never work and there will not be progress under such circumstances. He allowed that perhaps the State Department could try to help behind the scenes but [Page 213] then again emphasized that the only solution is to sit down and negotiate.

The Ambassador said that his government is not against negotiating, but that there were differences of approach. There once had been three obstacles to progress: (1) the question of union with Greece—which is no longer an issue; (2) sovereignty on the basis of federation—which his government has accepted as long as it is not a sham; and (3) opposition to a bizonal federation—which his government has accepted in principle (although there are differences with respect to territory and constitution). He said that as a result of these changes in his government’s position the situation was now better than before. Nevertheless, the Turks continue to persist on 32.8 percent of the island while his government calls for 18 percent. He noted that the official government records prove that Turkish ownership before the 1975 conflict and occupation was about 12 percent. He concluded that all these things give the impression that the Turks do not want to negotiate, that their attitude is negative and that they do not want a solution. Six rounds of talks have been frustrating. He continued that if the UN Secretary General felt that further talks would be useful he would have called for them.

Mr. Aaron asked if the Ambassador knew the UN Secretary General. He is certainly not Dag Hammarskjold. He continued that the Secretary General is in the least favorable position to say that you should sit down with the Turks.

The Ambassador repeated that the Secretary General is not persuaded that the situation has changed enough to permit new talks. He added that he hopes the US position in the UN debate will not be against the Cypriot government. He noted that the Eastern countries will support Cyprus, but that the US is cautious.

Mr. Aaron replied that if the sides continue their endless pursuit of questions of pride the stalemate will go on forever. The US wants no part of that. We are prepared to put our weight behind concrete progress. But if the US jumps into the UN debate to satisfy the pride of the Cypriot government, how does that advance the negotiations? Thus, the US probably will be cautious and save our influence for the main event—real discussions.

The Ambassador said that if the Turks realize that the US is dedicated to a settlement, their attitude would change. He complained that the Turks were exploiting their position in the Alliance, whose members were not being helpful.

Mr. Aaron said again that there is nothing on which we could now bring our influence to bear.

The Ambassador asked if that meant that the US needed an opening to play its role, to which Mr. Aaron replied “Yes, exactly.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 33, Memcons: Aaron, David: 2/77–12/78. Confidential. Drafted by Gates. The meeting took place in Aaron’s office in the White House.