Straw: UN efforts for Cyprus settlement have to run parallel with EU
Nicosia, Jan 25 (CNA) - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that efforts for a Cyprus settlement have to run parallel with the EU, noting that both are dependent on the other.
Straw was speaking at a press conference at Ledra Palace here Wednesday where he stressed that his meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat does not imply recognition of the so called regime in the Turkish occupied areas, nor upgrading of relations.
He emphasised that he came to the island ''as a friend of Cyprus,'' adding that he regards Cyprus as one of his highest priorities for 2006.
Straw remarked that the present deadlock serves nobody's interests, pointing out that the main obstacle is the lack of dialogue between the two communities and that the only route for reunification is negotiation and compromise.
In his opening remarks, Straw described his visit to Cyprus as ''very important'' for him for many reasons, because Cyprus matters, the relationship between the UK and Cyprus go back a long way. ''The links are deep and strong. The UK championed the accession of Cyprus to the EU because we believe it would be good for Cyprus and good for the Union as a whole.'' he said.
Cyprus, he said, ''is a valued EU partner and we in Britain, when the government in which I have been a member since 1997, are proud of the fact that we played in ensuring that Cyprus was able to join the EU, notwithstanding the divisions on this island.''
''I come here as a friend of Cyprus and with the support of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan,'' he said, noting that he regards Cyprus ''as one of my highest priorities for 2006.''
He said that he was due to review progress this afternoon with Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs George Iacovou on the Cyprus-UK structured dialogue.
''We are committed to helping finding a solution to the divisions of the island, because the current situation is bad for Cyprus, is bad for Eastern Mediterranean and it is bad for the EU,'' he said.
Straw remarked that ''the present deadlock serves nobody's interests, and the longer a settlement is delayed, the harder it will be to achieve.''
He gave as an example ''those Cypriots who long to return to their properties,'' noting, ''They shouldn't be kept waiting. One reason why an early settlement is needed.''
Straw said ''we also need progress on the issue of the missing persons'' and announced that ''the UK is donating a further 45 thousand pounds Sterling to this effort to help train forensic archaeologists from both communities.''
The British official noted that ''the main obstacle is the lack of dialogue between the two communities'' and said, ''The only route for reunification is negotiation and compromise. Only a negotiated settlement will support the command of both communities and there can be no imposed solution. Any solution will require the active consent of those both communities.''
He said, ''The UK has never seen itself as a mediator. But I am concerned that there has been no dialogue since the referendum in 2004. The UN have made clear that the gap between the two communities is wide. It's not for us to initiate a new process, but as ever, we do stand ready to support the two communities in seeking a solution. The solution is up to the people of Cyprus. I come here today to see for myself, to see the divisions on the island and to see the scope for moving to a united Cyprus based on a comprehensive, lasting and just settlement.''
Straw said he already met Iacovou once and ''the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Mehmet Ali Talat, in line with precedent.''
''My meeting with Mr. Talat does not imply recognition of the so called Turkish republic of northern Cyprus nor an upgrading of our relations,'' he stressed.
Straw said he is traveling to Turkey this afternoon and tomorrow for talks with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul and then he will go to Greece.
Referring to Gul's proposals for Cyprus, Straw said ''Abdullah Gul made an important statement which, as the EU Commissioner, Olli Rehn, has said, which I say, deserves to be taken seriously.''
Turning to Turkey's EU course, Straw said that ''opening the EU accessions with Turkey was a priority for our presidency, not, let me say, as a UK initiative but as something which the whole of the EU regarded as important.''
''Failure would have been a disaster for Cyprus. The prospect of Turkey joining the EU is something on which the interests of the UK and of Cyprus converge rather than diverge,'' he pointed out.
Straw said ''we have a common interest in a democratic Turkey, which is a force of stability and prosperity in this region, and which is a dynamic partner for the EU.''
Moreover, he added, Turkey's accession process ''creates a new impetus for normalising relations between Cyprus and Turkey and for achieving a just settlement for Cyprus as a whole.''
Straw turned to what he described as isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, noting that it has to be lifted. ''This is a separate track from Turkey's EU accession process but it's in all our interest to bring Turkish Cypriots closer to the EU.''
He thanked all those who have helped him gain a better understanding of the situation in Cyprus. ''I hope that 2006 can indeed be a year for progress here,'' he added.
Straw said he has read a lot about the history of the island and remarked that ''the history of Cyprus is the reason why there is a problem.''
''The future is the reason why we have to find a solution,'' he concluded in his opening remarks.
To a question by CNA whether he has achieved the purpose of his visit to the island, bearing in mind the strong anti-British feeling it has caused amongst the Greek Cypriot community, Straw said he had a very constructive meeting with Iacovou and looked forward to another one.
''We in the UK government, indeed my party, backed by other parties, who led the way to ensure that Cyprus was able to join the EU, notwithstanding that Cyprus is a divided island. Without that, Cyprus and therefore the Greek Cypriot community would be outside the EU. I think that was an act of friendship, we remain very strong friends of Cyprus. We and the government of Cyprus have the same policy towards the accession of Turkey,'' he said, adding that Cyprus along with the UK and other EU partners ''all agreed that Turkey should start the negotiations.''
''I say to you that it is hugely in Cyprus' interests'' and the Greek Cypriot community for Turkey ''to continue that process,'' he noted.
On his visit to the island, Straw repeated that ''we have an absolute commitment to working as hard as we can for reunification of this island and consistency of previous principles which are accepted by both sides and Security Council resolutions.''
As far as visiting Talat, he said it was ''in conformity of a very longstanding precedent which is applied to British ministers going back to Malcolm Rifkind and Mr. (Rauf) Denktash in 1996 and to foreign interlocutors including Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, his predecessor, Martin Brunel, the President of the European Parliament and so on.''
He remarked that ''we were not aware of a change in the policy of the government of Cyprus,'' noting, ''I am not saying that we would have changed our position had we been aware.''
''That's just precedent. And I am not making any point out of it,'' he said.
Invited to deny or confirm reports that he is here as a UN envoy to initiate a new momentum for Cyprus talks and whether it is a coincidence that he is on the island now that Turkey has put forward proposals to the UN, Straw said he was grateful for Kofi Annan's wishes for his visit.
''But I am not here as his special envoy. I am here as the British Foreign Secretary. We are in very close touch with the Secretary General and the Secretariat because the issue of a peace settlement is the responsibility of the Secretary General who works under a Security Council mandate. This is a UN responsibility,'' he said, adding that the fact that the conference was taking place at Ledra Palace ''demonstrates the responsibilities the UN has here but also the obligations of the whole of the international community to find a solution to this longstanding issue.''
Regarding the timing of his visit and the announcement of the Turkish proposals, Straw said that it was ''a matter for them and not for me.''
Asked to comment on President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos' refusal to meet with him, Straw said, ''I make no point, it is up to his Excellency, the President of Cyprus whether he is available to see me or not. My interlocutor is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and we had a good meeting.''
Invited to say whether Britain encourages or discourages the British to continue buying property in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus belonging to Greek Cypriots, Straw said Britain has issued a travel advice to British citizens.
''I understand obviously there are great feelings about the issues of property,'' he said, adding that the only way that these can be resolved ''is through a settlement process and that's why we are so committed as leading members of the EU and the UN Security Council to see a settlement.''
He also said that there were ''intense feelings'' on the property issue from both sides, noting, ''We have to find a way through, and the only way through is by negotiation and by a lasting settlement. There isn't any other way.''
Asked in what context he envisages the Turkish Cypriots becoming part of the EU, Straw said ''Cyprus as whole was admitted to the EU, although it was accepted that temporarily the acquis of the EU can only apply in respect of about two thirds of the land mass of the island and the southern part of the authority of the government of Cyprus also extends itself of the Green Line.''
''The circumstances of which the acquis being applied in the north are very straight forward when there is a settlement, which illustrates the way in which the UN track has to be running parallel to the EU track and that both are depended on the other,'' he said.
Asked about a demonstrator outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning, who was slightly injured when he was hit by one of the cars driven by the British delegation and that he did not stop to see what happened, Straw said he was ''very sorry indeed that a demonstrator was injured, but you must understand that in these situations I am not driving and we are subject to the requirements of the local security as well as my own security.''
Finally, he congratulated Cypriot tennis player Markos Bagdatis for ''achieving something which no Brit has managed to achieve, namely qualification for the semi-finals of the Australian Open.''