The leaders of both communities in Cyprus have created a sense of hope, a sense of momentum towards a solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem, Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP said on his visit to Cyprus on Thursday 19 November, noting that it will be hugely to the benefit of all Cypriots, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, to resolve this issue and allow the island to function again as a single entity.
Mr Hammond was speaking during a joint press conference with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides. The two Ministers had a tete-a-tete meeting, and later on a working lunch. They discussed the Cyprus problem, the issue of terrorism, Cyprus-UK bilateral relations and strategic partnership, and the suggested EU reform. Earlier Mr Hammond had separate meetings with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot Mustafa Akinci, following which he met with UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide.
Referring to his visit to Cyprus, as well as to the recent visit of his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the forthcoming visits of the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Ministers of Russia and China, Mr Hammond noted that “the world has noticed that something is moving in Cyprus and the world is coming here in order to show its support and its commitment to helping you the Cypriots to get this done.”
Mr Kasoulides said on his part that Philip Hammond’s second visit to Cyprus in a few months time “is a demonstration of the keen interest of the United Kingdom in following the developments of the negotiations for reaching a settlement of the problem of Cyprus.”
He noted that he briefed Mr Hammond, as President Anastasiades did earlier, on the developments in the current negotiating process for finding a solution to the Cyprus problem.
Referring to efforts to solve the Cyprus problem, Philip Hammond stressed that “the UN-led process has all our strong support and we will work with it over the coming weeks and months.”
Noting that this is his second visit to Cyprus in four months, he said that this “reflects the importance we attach to the developments that are going on in seeking to settle the Cyprus question. We understand that there are still some big challenges left to resolve and I know that the leaders are now focusing on those big and difficult issues. We wish them well in doing so. We will provide every support we can. And I know that I can speak not only for the United Kingdom but also for the European Union and for other friends and partners beyond the EU when I say that,” he noted.
Replying to a question of a journalist concerning the financing of a Cyprus settlement, Mr Hammond noted that the property issue is one of the difficult issues which the two leaders are now focusing on.
He added that the international community has made it clear that it is willing to provide some financial support to underpin a settlement. “I think that we also have to provide some technical support. Let’s have the best brains from all around the world thinking about how to deal with this complex inter-linked set of problems and how to raise the necessary finance to underpin that solution,” he added.
“But when it comes to it, I am confident that the international community, including the European Union, of which of course Britain is an important contributing member, will provide support to a settlement and we look forward to being in a position that there is a settlement on the table for us to provide support to,” he noted, adding that he international community is very much engaged into this.
Asked if they discussed the issue of guarantor powers, and about the UK’s position on this, Mr Hammond said that they discussed it briefly, noting that this is one of the difficult issues to be addressed.
“I’ve discussed it both with President Anastasiades this morning and also with Mr Akinci. The UK’s position is clear: If the two communities come to agreement about how they want to move forward, the UK will consider any proposal. We have no preconceptions about how this should be done. We have no interest of our own in this process. Our only interest is to try to facilitate a workable agreement between the two communities, so that there can be a settlement to the Cyprus question,” he stressed.
Asked about the role that the British Bases in Cyprus will play, once a decision is taken for UK airstrikes in Syria, Mr Hammond said that “we haven’t as yet set any date for a vote on UK airstrikes in Syria. It is no secret that I, the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary would like to be able to extend British airstrikes into Syria, but we will only go to parliament when we are confident that we’ve built a consensus across parliament that accepts the need for these airstrikes as part of our broader strategy for dealing with the challenge of ISIL and the challenge of the civil war in Syria,” he noted.
He said that “we have no plans at the moment to step up operations from RAF Akrotiri. As you know we are already flying routine missions surveillance, refueling and airstrikes in Iraq from RAF Akrotiri,” he added.
On his part, Mr Kasoulides expressed Cyprus’ readiness to provide assistance to the French Authorities, if it asked to do so, in the context of the agreements in bilateral and European level, by authorizing them to use the facilities in Cyprus.
“We have said from the beginning of the operations against ISIL that our air base is at the disposal of the French airforce for emergency landings or whatever, even airforce returning from air strikes,” he noted, while answering a question he said that there has been no request from France to use the base in order to launch air strikes.
Responding a question by a British journalist, about the refugees who recently came ashore at the Royal Air Force base in Akrotiri, Mr Hammond said that the Republic of Cyprus government made it clear it was willing in principle to take all of these migrants, once it is clarified that they are eligible as asylum seekers and that they don’t have criminal records.
“I am confident that the people who are on the Sovereign Base will either be transferred to the Republic of Cyprus as eligible asylum seekers in accordance with our Memorandum of Understanding, or if they are not eligible as asylum seekers they will be returned to their country of origin. What I can say with absolute clarity is that there is no route for them into the UK. The SBAs are not a backdoor to migration into the UK,” he stressed.
On his part, Mr Kasoulides said that a substantial number of asylum seekers will be received by the Republic of Cyprus. “I hope this procedure will be completed today and, then, the rest, who present some security risk, who would have been rejected for asylum, even if they had come directly to the Republic of Cyprus from the coast, we will work together with the British Bases authorities for their deportation,” he noted.
As regards bilateral issues, Mr Hammond said that “we have a very strong and effective bilateral relationship and over the last few years that relationship is growing even stronger. We are finding ever-more ways of collaborating together and we will continue to do so, including the cooperation on countering the poisonous ideology of ISIL.”
He noted that Cyprus is close to a very dangerous and unstable region, adding that “you have a big – big interest in ensuring that we collectively tackle the challenge of instability in Syria and destroy the poisonous ideology of ISIL. We are grateful for the engagement and commitment of Cyprus in the coalition of nations that are seeking to achieve that end,” he added.
Mr Hammond also said that he had in the morning a brief discussion with President Anastasiades about the UK`s reform agenda for the EU and was going to discuss it more with Mr Kasoulides later on. “On many areas we are like-minded. Both Cyprus and Britain have very important financial services sectors and we both want to see the single market in financial services completed in the EU,” he noted.
He added that “we will work together to ensure that the process of EU reform doesn’t just answer the concerns of the British people” but also “that it can deliver for all the people of the EU in all the member states.”
The Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s strong commitment to the bilateral relationship between Britain and Cyprus which, as he said, is underpinned by very strong people-to-people relationships. “We intend to continue playing a role as you Cypriots of both communities work towards a solution of the Cyprus problem and we intend to continue working together in the EU, the UN and other forums to ensure that the broader, wider issues of the region are resolved for the benefit of all of us,” he added.
With regard to terrorism, and the recent abominable attacks in Paris, Mr Kasoulides stressed that they have only “strengthened our determination and readiness to face its root causes, with the efforts in Vienna for a political solution of the civil war in Syria, but also to eliminate violent extremism, both on European soil but also the violent extremism of the barbarous `Islamic State` from Syria and Iraq.”
As regards the strategic partnership between the two countries, Mr Kasoulides said that it has been growing stronger and deeper in the last couple of years. With the UK we are already cooperating in crisis management, humanitarian operations, as well as in finding best ways to deal with growing asymmetric threats, he added.
Furthermore, he said that he looked forward to hearing from Mr Hammond the UK’s positions on the way forward on the suggested EU reform, “which constitutes a high priority in the European context at this point. We have read Prime Minister Cameron’s five proposals. Cyprus has no difficulty in agreeing with most of them,” he noted.