US Ambassador in Athens Thomas Miller, a former State Department coordinator for the Cyprus issue, is undoubtedly one of the most experienced American diplomats in the region. He has also served as Charge d’Affaires in Greece, head of Mediterranean issues at the State Department and ambassador in Bosnia from 1992 to 1994. Currently busy with preparations for Olympic Games security, he is also keeping a close watch on developments in the Cyprus issue and believes that a solution is near. «I think we are as close as we have ever been. It doesn’t mean there is a guarantee there will be a solution but there are some significant factors out there that have not existed before,» he said in an interview on Friday. Two days before Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to meet in Switzerland, Miller did not want to predict the future regarding Cyprus, but said both leaders wanted a solution. Miller also spoke about Greek-Turkish relations, the situation in Kosovo and Olympic Games security. «I believe that with very hard work and effort, the Olympic Games will be safe,» he said. Cyprus is at a very hot point right now. How would you place it in terms of the negotiations that have been going on for 30 years and how close are we to a solution? Well, I came into this in the last decade so I can’t give you a 30-year time frame based upon personal experience. I’ve read a lot of the history in the last decade. I think we are as close as we have ever been. It doesn’t mean there is a guarantee there will be a solution, but there are some significant factors out there that have not existed before. In terms of the plan itself, if your readers go back and look at the (former UN Secretary-General) Boutros-Boutros Ghali plan – they can even look at the high-level talks, at any number of plans that have been on the table – which is 13 years ago, they’ll find a remarkable similarity between these various plans and that’s not surprising at all because when reasonable people sit down and try to come up with solutions they usually end up converging, coming up with things that are relatively similar. I’m not saying they are exactly the same but the concepts, trade-offs, compromises have been out there for some time. Has anything changed between the Boutros Ghali plan and the Annan plan? Sure. You have got new governments, a new government in Turkey. You’ve got one very significant development in 1995, which people tend to forget about, and that was the agreement within the EU for Turkey to get into the customs union in return for launching Cyprus on the path to accession. Back in 1995, 2004 seemed like it was pretty far away. Well, 2004 accession is a reality in a couple of months and if that hadn’t happened I’m not sure we would be where we are today. Now that we are in this framework of a very strict timetable, do you see the players moving toward a solution, or do you think there has been a freeze in the process? Every day we get various reports and I try to stay out of the business of predicting it. There is no doubt that this is not an easy negotiation, but there is also no doubt in our minds that a solution is definitely possible. I also strongly believe, as I know many other people do – and this is the question that one has to ask – that as a solution the Annan plan is preferable to the status quo and is advantageous to both sides. And that is really the question on the table. There seems to be an alignment of «no votes» on both sides. Is there anything you would use as an argument to Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots as to why a solution would be better than no solution? Well, I think both sides understand that clearly an undivided island is better for all sides. Having a Green Line in the middle of the European Union is not advantageous to anyone. I think the short- and long-term benefits to the Turkish-Cypriot population on the economic side are manifest and very apparent. I think the overall economic benefits to the whole island are there. I think taking Cyprus out as a point of tension in the Greek-Turkish relationship is extremely important, obviously to Greece and Turkey, but to all of us who are friends of both countries. Then I think there is a psychological dimension that people don’t focus on. There is a whole generation of people who have grown up without any contact on the other side of the Green Line. What we saw within the last year when they opened the Green Line and the worst scenarios did not come to pass. People went back and forth across the Green Line, they didn’t kill each other, and there were a lot of stories of very harmonious relations. Sure there are a lot of scars, but I think the message that came from the island on both sides is that it is time to turn the page. That is not my message, that is the message we were hearing from both sides. I remember when I was doing the Cyprus negotiations, we were doing a lot of bicommunal activities and I’ll never forget how hungry people on both sides of the Green Line were for contact with the other side. Again, it didn’t mean they agreed on all aspects of the Cyprus solution, but that human contact, between professional and all kinds of groups, was very important. People don’t usually talk about that at all, they just talk about maps and what the government will look like and how many people can return and who is going to get property where – that is all extremely important. Which in a way brings us to the point of contention: whether a solution will exempt Cyprus from EU primary laws. Could a solution be viable if it actually stops that contact? I’m going to leave that to (UN special envoy for Cyprus Alvaro) de Soto and the people who are in Buergenstock right now. It’s an extremely important issue and I don’t think it would be useful even from a distance to offer a comment. This is one very important aspect of the negotiations. If the sides are of good will and are willing to engage in a give and take they can work it out. How much US mediation is going on right now? We are there to support the Annan plan, Mr de Soto and Secretary-General Kofi Annan and my successor (as State Department coordinator on Cyprus) Tom Weston has been very involved. Wherever we can be helpful, we will be. I’m glad you asked that, because sometimes there is the impression out there in the public domain that there is some kind of separate negotiation – there is no separate negotiation. We are all acting in support of the Annan plan and the secretary-general. (European Commissioner for enlargement) Guenther Verheugen said he would be joining the process in Lucerne and we can’t really figure out what this process is because in the last couple of days we’ve seen many parties involved, but no direct meeting. Do you have any idea what form this is going to take on Sunday? I don’t because I’m not there. I’m hopeful it would take a form that serves the process. I don’t know the Turkish prime minister personally but I have heard many good things about him; he’s a very serious man and wants a solution. It’s obviously helpful to Turkey’s EU aspirations. I do know Prime Minister Karamanlis, he is very serious, he wants a solution and I’m hopeful the two of them, with the others there – the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leadership – can work things out, in terms of how they arrange themselves, whether in a four-party or two-party meeting, however would be most advantageous to the process. I would just caution people not to get hung up on the modalities; they are important but not the critical element here. If we can jump ahead, what would the status quo look like if there is a «no» vote? On the Greek side, or both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot sides? It’s a good question but I really can’t look inside a crystal ball and make that judgement from here. Frankly I’d rather look at the glass half-full than half-empty. I’d rather talk as much as one can about what the future looks like for a united Cyprus. I’m not sure we are going to see the movement in a linear fashion. When you look at the history of negotiations on tough issues, sometimes you get a dramatic breakthrough. I think what happened in New York earlier last month was very important because the two sides agreed that if they couldn’t agree, the secretary-general would fill in the blanks. You have never had that in the history of the Cyprus issue and that is really important. You basically have got the two sides saying «we are so committed to having agreement that if we can’t agree we’ll defer to someone else, we’ll let someone else fill in the blanks.» That’s big. Of course it depends on what proposal the secretary-general makes. Mr de Soto has shown a framework that has been there for all to see for years. There are no surprises here. There is an overall framework that has been out there. Is there the feeling that both sides are making the maximum possible demand in the expectation there will be a solution from a third party, or are they are just not ready for a solution? I don’t know, but I do know that in other negotiations I have been involved in it is not surprising for both sides to go with their maximum demands. I’m not there so it is hard to talk about a dynamic I am not witnessing. On Sunday the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey will be discussing Cyprus. Could you, in your years as a Cyprus mediator, have imagined them reaching this point? Yes I could, because I think as a diplomat, you can never succeed unless you look at the world with the glass half-full. If you are always looking at what can go wrong, I guarantee you it will go wrong. You have got to have a bit of the «vision thing» – you have got to be able to look over the horizon and visualize not only what a solution looks like but how you are going to get there. I can see this. I don’t guarantee it but I can see it.