London, July 17, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
In a week that saw the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker visit Cyprus and chip in in the optimism that has taken hold of the international community regarding the prospect of the latest round of talks to resolve the Cyprus issue, one could be forgiven for not noticing the parallel visit by the UK Foreign Secretary.
Philip Hammond (photo) was due to meet President Anastasiades, Foreign Minister Kasoulides and also the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mustapha Akinci on Friday, during a one-day trip.
The previously arranged visit to Cyprus by Mr Hammond had to be postponed due to developments with the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme. The timing of that visit had caused uproar in Cyprus and among the UK’s Greek Cypriot community, as according to reports the Foreign Secretary was intending to meet with the then Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu under unfortunate circumstances.
The meeting just before the ‘election’ in the occupied north would be seen as a sign of support by London for a politician considered by Nicosia to be unwilling to play his part in facilitating a settlement. Moreover, the date of the meeting which would take place across the dividing line would be the 1st of April, the emotionally charged anniversary of the beginning of EOKA’s struggle for independence against the British.
Three and a half months later the atmosphere is much more fertile for a visit. Mr Akinci’s good will has changed the mood and some attitudes, so much so that Mr Hammond talked of “stars never before so optimistically aligned in Cyprus.”
His presence in Nicosia is not connected to Mr Juncker’s trip, but it is a sign of the increased international interest in what seems as the best chance to date to remove a thorn from Europe’s side.
The Foreign Secretary was said to be “looking forward” to his visit, in order to reiterate London’s support for the UN-led process. Mr Hammond has been kept updated on the talks’ progress by his Cypriot counterpart, with whom he would also cover the issues of bilateral relations, EU reform, immigration into Europe and regional developments.
In terms of what he has to bring to the table on the Cyprus issue, the Foreign Secretary believes that the UK wouldn’t serve the cause of reaching a solution if it interfered now, but that his government stands ready to assist when asked to and after sufficient progress has been achieved.
He gave an indication of the kind of action the UK government is willing to undertake in a recent House of Commons debate, when he affirmed the “very big and generous” offer to surrender a significant proportion of the bases’ land mass once a comprehensive settlement has been reached.
The big issue of the guarantees is also one that London would be expected to address. A diplomatic source has told IBNA that the UK is “not really bothered” about maintaining the guarantee country status as long as ceding this capacity does not get mixed up or in any other way interfere with the function of the bases.
“With the Greek government now publicly supporting putting an end to the archaic status of the guarantor powers, the tripod of guarantors is theoretically bound to collapse. London realises that a Cyprus in the year 2015 and being a full member of the EU cannot go on under a practically obsolete security system, which arguably hasn’t served the best interest of all Cypriots,” said the same source.
However, Mr Hammond is said to be clear that it is too early to get involved in much detail on that front.
Therefore, the message to Nicosia will be the standard one: the UK supports the UN-led process and is ready to assist as it can towards reaching a final settlement when time comes.