London, April 16, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
The UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond took time off his busy schedule in the run up to the British general election to address a north London Cypriot community event organised by the ‘Conservative Friends of Cyprus’ on the Orthodox Good Friday.
In a sign of the importance attributed to the organised Cypriot diaspora in the UK, Mr Hammond was accompanied by all five Conservative MPs representing the north London constituencies with the high concentration of UK Cypriots.
Mr Hammond expressed his hope and support for the swift resumption of the suspended settlement talks between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot communities, which were brought to a halt after Turkey violated the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus.
“The UK Government will continue to champion Cyprus’s right to exploit its economic zone around the island without interference from others,” was the message that the Foreign Secretary bore to much of his audience’s delight.
He was also carefully critical of the way President Erdogan has been exercising his duties, with a remark that there is much debate going on in Turkey with regard to the constitutional changes pursued. “There has been quite a significant change in the way the country is governed,” commented Mr Hammond, barely hiding his concern.
He also sent a message to the Turkish Cypriot leadership, in an untypical intervention close to the illegal ‘election’ in the occupied part of Cyprus. Asked by a member of the audience about the circumstances under which he could imagine Turkey playing a different tune with regard to Cyprus, Philip Hammond said: “The key issue is the Turkish Cypriot community and the Turkish Cypriot community needing to be clear that it wants to engage in a settlement process.”
This remark by the head of the British diplomacy and foreign policy was generally received well by members of the UK Cypriot community, but some were concerned it might be yet another instance in which foreign politicians produce comments that let Turkey off the hook. He did add that once the momentum of the talks was restored, he could assure the UK Cypriots that the international community would “apply the maximum pressure on governments outside Cyprus to be supportive or at least not to interfere with that process going on.”
He then pleased the Cypriot UK voters even more by reminding them that “the EU has a close working relationship with Turkey and will want to ensure that the UN-led process in Cyprus is able to run its course with good will on all sides.”
The Foreign Secretary went on to reiterate his government’s support for the UN-led settlement process and praised the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide.
As this was a Conservative party event, Mr Hammond also referred to the practical ways in which the UK’s Conservative-led government has offered support to Cyprus: the technical help when the financial crisis hi the island, the encouragement of civilian development on the British bases’ areas, grassroots trust building initiatives such an event recently hosted at the Foreign Office with the participation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot chambers of commerce, and the support for the Committee on Missing Persons.