The millennium is just around the corner, and there are soothing ripples on the surface of some of this century's conflicts with roots in the ancient past. Cypriot Ambassador Erato Kozakou Marcoullis returned hopeful from New York recently after two weeks of "proximity talks" at the United Nations between Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.

Having grown up in a unified Cyprus, Marcoullis told guests at her annual Christmas dinner on Dec. 14 that she wished that the "beautiful combination of Turkish and Greek ethnic groups" her generation knew will be not only a "vision in the approaching millennium, but a reality."

During a stopover in Turkey after the New York talks, however, Denktash insisted he wanted international recognition for both parts of the island, which would keep him as head of a Turkish Cypriot entity under a confederation. Greek Cypriots favor a two-community federation in one homeland.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and his special adviser on Cyprus, Undersecretary General Alvaro de Soto, met separately with Clerides and Denktash. There is a news blackout on details, which Marcoullis said will remain in effect. "The good thing about this round is that there will be a second one. . . . This has been a constructive process," she said.

President Clinton is credited with persuading the Turkish Cypriot side to attend the New York talks. Marcoullis expressed hope that a reunited Cyprus will prosper again as part of the European Union. "This is not a matter of winning or losing, but of having a better life," she said.

Marcoullis welcomed the resumption of Syrian-Israeli talks as a "good development in our neighborhood" and disclosed that her government has written to both Damascus and Tel Aviv offering to host any future talks or side meetings.

They Gave Peace a Chance

Woodstock? No, Washington. But for one sublime evening, the sound and spirit of the '60s were back. Richie Havens spoke and sang with soulfulness and energy at the second annual awards ceremony organized by Search for Common Ground last Thursday. It was hosted by Austrian Ambassador Peter Moser.

The group, a nongovernmental organization, honored this year's list of outstanding peace builders, risk takers and problem solvers. They included former secretary of state James A. Baker III, for his groundbreaking push on Middle East peace efforts with the 1991 Madrid conference. Four journalists--an American, two Arabs and an Israeli--won for work that opened windows of understanding.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and the government of Cuba, represented by Cuba's envoy here, Fernando Ramirez, were honored for organizing games between the Orioles and the Cuban national baseball team last summer.

"Baseball is something we learned 130 years ago from American sailors who went to Cuban ports," Ramirez said. "When the Spanish came, they prohibited baseball because it was a symbol of the lust of the Cuban people for sport and independence."

The timing was perfect for Baker, who during congressional testimony once gave the White House telephone number in exasperation, telling Arab and Israeli parties to call when they wanted peace. His award followed the resumption of Syrian-Israeli talks last week after a three-year hiatus.

"The participants are not there yet, but they made the choice along the long road to Middle East peace," Baker said. He later confided that he got into trouble with President George Bush for not giving the State Department's phone number instead. "I had to send flowers to the operators at the White House," he chuckled. "They were flooded with calls."

Territory and the Talks

Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval made it plain at an Israeli Policy Forum lunch on Monday and in a session with Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday that pending "territorial questions between Syria and Israel will come last" in the peace talks.

The talks will resume Jan. 3 in Shepherdstown, W. Va., about 75 miles northwest of Washington, with the goal of reaching a core agreement, not a peace treaty, on such issues as borders, water and Lebanon, Shoval said.

"In our view, the territorial question will come last. We know the Syrians think differently," he added. Syrian sources in the Arab press have said Syria expects the territorial questions to be settled first.