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An old Greek game in Cyprus

If Andreas Papandreou were inexperienced in politics or lacked knowledge of foreign affairs, his recent visit to Cyprus could be dismissed as the naive initiative of a well-intentioned amateur. That won't wash. Papandreou is much too bright to have any illusions about the nature of the venture he has embarked upon. It has nothing to do with settlement in Cyprus or with laying groundwork for resolution of other Greek-Turkish differences. Papandreou cannot fail to know that his visit to the island (the first any Greek prime minister has made since it became an independent state), the scorn he has expressed for UN-sponsored bicommunal talks, and the call he has made for unilateral Turkish military withdrawal can only dash hopes for real progress toward settlement.

Papandreou's prime concern is not Cyprus at all. He is maneuvering on Cyprus to detract attention from his poor performance in Greece.

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It is an old game. When Greek politicians get into trouble, they heat up Cyprus as a way out. At least Papandreou's current game is not yet as dangerous as the colonels' scheme in 1974. They tried to boost their declining fortunes in Athens by abetting an assassination attempt against Archbishop Makarios as a prelude for enosis. The venture proved disastrous for everybody, though most of all for the colonels. The real losers were the people of Cyprus.

The current chapter in Cyprus's history did not begin when the Turks moved into the northern part of the island on July 20, 1974. They moved because the colonels mounted their coup and installed a convicted terrorist, Nikos Sampson, as president. As one of the three guarantor powers, the Turks had a right to intervene. If they had not intervened, the coup might have succeeded and, incidentally, democracy might not have been restored to Greece.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit gave marching orders to his generals only after a determined effort to persuade the British, as senior guarantor power, to step in. Britain, unfortunately, had declined to a pale shadow of its former imperial self and the United States, weakened by Watergate and the collapse of the Nixon presidency, was too distracted to press the British to make an effort to sort things out.

Cyprus events of July and August 1974 were traumatic for everyone, especially for the hundreds of thousands of people on the island - both Greeks and Turks - who were uprooted and forced to take refuge in separate zones. For a few weeks afterward there was hope that Ecevit and Greek leader Caramanlis might turn the tragedy into an opportunity for statesmanship and devise a settlement. Political weaknesses in both countries prevented that from happening. The result has been another divided country in a world where there are already too many.

Archbishop Makarios's recognition of harsh realities nevertheless made it possible before his passing for bicommunal talks to be launched under United Nations auspices. These talks have sputtered but never stopped. They have kept all parties on the island committed to a federal, bizonal settlement plan and provided a framework within which it could be negotiated.

Prospects for progress improved when Turkey's military leaders, soon after they took power on Sept. 12, 1980, began making conciliatory moves toward Greece. Free of pressures of partisan politics, they are in a good position to encourage serious negotiations not only for settlement in Cyprus but of other Greek-Turkish differences as well.

It is a tragedy that Papandreou's response to Turkish overtures is merely to whip up emotions. These are the actions of a demagogue, not a statesman. Turkey's military withdrawal from Cyprus is out of the question without progress toward a political settlement. ''Internationalization'' of the problem will bring the Soviets and others into a situation where they can and will want to do no good. Cyprus is first and foremost a problem for Greeks and Turks on the island and for Greece and Turkey. Until they start talking seriously, there will be no settlement.

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The only positive feature on this dismal scene is the fact that Turks have responded to Papandreou's antics with diffidence. Greek Cypriots would have been well advised to mute their cheers for him. He was serving his purposes, not theirs, by visiting their island.

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