London, April 24, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides (photo) used the occasion of his two-day visit to London on 19-20 April for the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group which he chairs to update Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on the latest developments over the ongoing settlement talks in Cyprus.
Mr Hammond has often over the last few months talked of ‘stars being aligned’ like never before in support of a settlement to the decades-long ‘Cyprus problem’. While London maintained its cautious optimism, Mr Kasoulides latest update was a reality check, as he conveyed Nicosia’s concerns over the Turkish side’s approach.
Mr Kasoulides made a special reference to the intention of the Turkish Cypriot illegal authorities in the occupied north to award ‘citizenship’ to an additional 25,000 settlers from Turkey, an idea encouraged by Ankara.
The Cypriot Foreign Minister noted that such a move “would completely crush the ratio of 4:1 that the demographic composition of a reunited Cyprus should adhere to if the settlers’ issue were to be resolved in a simple way.
“It also deviates from the common understanding between the two sides,” said Mr Kasoulides, essentially warning against endangering the positive climate that has characterised talks between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities so far.
Another issue on the agenda was how a settlement would be funded. The Foreign Office has been preoccupied with this matter for quite some time now, ever since all parties involved started describing the prospects of reunification in optimistic terms. “Funding the settlement requires interest from the private sector,” said Ioannis Kasoulides.
Analysts have been estimating the cost of the compensations for refugees who will decide to receive money instead of returning to their villages and towns to billions of euros. “Efforts should start as soon as conditions permit it, depending on the settlement talks’ progress,” added Mr Kasoulides.
Despite doubts about whether the international community would be willing to pledge the money needed, British officials have been optimistic. According to the Cypriot Foreign Minister, London believes the private sector interest would be forthcoming. “I can’t imagine how in being confronted with such a monumental breakthrough we would not manage to find the money required,” a UK official commented.
Ioannis Kasoulides also sent a message to the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish side, rejecting their argument that progress in the talks has been slowed down because of the elections in the Republic on 22 May for members of the House of Representatives. “We have always maintained that our part is not affected by the elections. Therefore, it will be up to the Turkish side especially, where there are answers pending, to prove immediately after the 22nd of May that there will be an acceleration of the progress in the talks,” said Mr Kasoulides. “Otherwise, the elections will have been nothing but an excuse,” he added.
The two men also discussed security issues in the wider Eastern Mediterranean, with their counties sharing concerns and interests regarding the threat of ISIS, as well as the UK referendum on whether the country should remain in or leave the EU. Mr Kasoulides said that a ‘Brexit’ from the EU would weaken Europe and it would not be in the interest of Cyprus, calling upon UK Cypriots who have the right to vote in the referendum to back the Remain campaign.