Minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan believes that the “homegrown” peace process in Cyprus is a good thing and advocates less interference from outside in the ongoing effort to find a negotiated settlement that would reunite the country, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, Sir Alan talked about “a massive opportunity” for a political settlement in Cyprus which he hopes can be taken and endorsed by the people, warning at the same time that if it is not, the generations to come could be affected.
He indicated that, should the leaders of the island’s two communities reach an agreement, this would increase the status in which Cyprus is regarded across the world.
On Brexit, he said the UK is taking time to try and work out exactly how to go about it, adding that all options are open.
Asked to assess the state of play in the Cyprus peace talks, he said there is “a strong feeling everywhere we went that the discussions are more developed and are in a more hopeful state than we have seen before,” adding that everybody would like to see this reach a successful conclusion for the long interests of Cyprus and for prosperity for future generations.
“Let us hope the negotiations can be brought to a successful conclusion. Indeed the purpose of my visit here is to come here as a guarantor country to say we want this to work and we hope that it will,” he told the CNA.
Invited to qualify his assertion that there is “very good and encouraging progress”, he refrained from elaborating further, saying that “the exact details are for the two sides, it is not for us to get involved in the detail, instruct or direct.”
“A lot of the ingredients are at a very good advanced stage, there are always loose ends which still need some more work but I think there is quite clearly good faith on both sides and a very strong wish to reach a conclusion,” he added.
He also talked about “good trust between the two sides”, which he believes is “a very very important element in the path for a successful outcome.”
The UK, he noted, “is here to encourage and say we hope you will see it through to the finishing line.”
Asked to explain his comments about “exercising constructive influence behind the process”, Sir Alan indicated that the UK might exercise this influence through contact with “someone” and expressed hope that the negotiators will be given “constructive encouragement”.
“In any kind of discussion like this, there are always diplomatic discussions one can have; may be we can help talk to someone on the phone and say please accept, this is a good idea, or not a good idea. I think just knowing that the UN, the EU and Britain all want this to happen, I hope we will give the constructive encouragement to the negotiators and the two sides to help bring them together to a successful agreement,” he explained.
More specifically, on practical experience the UK could provide to help move the settlement process forward, he endorsed the “homegrown process which comes from within Cyprus,” pointing out that “probably the less outside interference the better.”
Noting that the UK has been involved in many negotiations over the years, he said it was so good that what is happening is happening naturally from within the country and “they are doing it themselves and probably the less outside interference, the better.”
“The fact that this is a home grown process which is coming from within and which eventually must secure the endorsement of the two communities, in the north and south of the island, is what needs to happen. I think because it is happening from within, it is all the more encouraging,” he added.
Replying to questions, Sir Alan said the proposal London made in 2004 to relinquish part of the territory of its military bases in Cyprus remains in place.
“The offer stands as a valid offer and we hope in as much as it can prove helpful that it will do so and if it helps piece things together and be a little piece in the jigsaw to make things happen that would be very good news,” he said.
Asked if he had any feedback from the two community leaders on this, he said he had not discussed it in specific detail, noting that there are all sorts of chapter headings and discussions that they are going through.
“The feeling I get is that we are on the verge of a massive opportunity for Cyprus, an opportunity which I hope can be taken and will be endorsed by people in a referendum and I would say, if it is not taken, it could affect people for generations to come,” he stressed.
Leadership, courage, vision is about taking an opportunity, sometimes accepting compromises in order to do it, he added,
On bilateral ties and ways to enhance them, he referred to “very deep” ties and “a relationship which is in a fantastically good shape.”
“I think, even though we are leaving the EU, the bilateral relationship will not only continue but it can get deeper and that is what we are going to try to do as we leave the EU with a number of countries,” he said.
Invited to identify areas in which these ties can improve further, he had this to say: “the only area is in seeing this process forward to a successful conclusion, because I think it would increase, if you like, the status in which Cyprus is regarded across the world and if they have shown the courage and the good sense to put together a reunification agreement along the lines that are being discussed, it opens up a whole new future for Cyprus which will be entirely for the good.”
On Turkey’s EU accession course, given the recent developments in that country, he acknowledged that it would be “impertinent” for the UK to interfere in that, saying that “any decision to admit Turkey into the EU is a matter between the EU and Turkey.”
Reiterating Britain’s condemnation of the coup against Turkish President Erdogan, he said London will try to “build bilateral ties more strongly in a way that I hope will also assist the discussions taking place here in Cyprus and that is my priority as the Minister for Europe.”
Invited to outline the “best possible agreement for Britain” as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, he said the UK is leaving the EU, not Europe, and intends to remain “an outward looking trading global government” which wants to be able to continue to trade just as the UK’s current European partners will continue to trade.
“In the meantime we are discussing trade deals, how we will try keep tariffs to a minimum but it is too early to say what exactly this would look like,”, he said, pointing out that “all options are open and we are taking time to try and work out exactly how we go about this.”