Only Turkey recognizes the state on Northern Cyprus headed by Mehmet Ali Talat, but Condoleezza Rice is playing host to Talat in a move she hopes will show U.S. support for a political settlement on the divided Mediterranean island. Her meeting with Talat on Friday is part of a U.S. effort to ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community after it backed a failed U.N.-sponsored Cyprus reunification plan in a referendum last year.
Pressed by their government, Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the plan because it would limit the right of 200,000 Greek Cypriots to return and regain properties lost in the north after Turkish troops invaded in 1976. It also would have allowed more than 100,000 Turkish mainland settlers to remain on the island with some Turkish troops.
The United States has never recognized the Turkish-Cypriot entity since it was established in 1983. Turkey has recognized it from the beginning but has been able to entice nobody else to do so.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday the United States supports the efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to seek a peaceful end to the division of Cyprus.
Talat is expected to meet with Annan on Monday.
Rice's meeting with Talat "indicates our continuing support for a solution and resolution to this issue," McCormack said.
High-level U.S. contacts with Turkish-Cypriot leaders are not unprecedented.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Talat last year in New York. During the first Bush administration, Secretary of State James Baker dropped by a State Department meeting involving then Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.
Friday's meeting is believed to be the first in which a Turkish-Cypriot leader will be received in the office of the secretary of state.
The State Department cautioned against attaching too much significance to the meeting, calling it part of a normal process of reaching out to all sides to find a solution for Cyprus.
The department regards the meeting as a continuation of a U.S.-Turkish-Cypriot dialogue.