By Angelos Anastasiou
The UK is “completely flexible” about its future as a guarantor power in Cyprus and ready to help drum up the financial support that will be required in a settlement to the Cyprus problem, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday.
Addressing a Conservative Friends of Cyprus (CFC) event on the sidelines of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on Sunday evening, Hammond said his government is working with international partners in order to financially underpin a settlement, despite the “eye-watering” sum that will likely be required to settle outstanding property issues.
In an event attended by members of the British government, Conservative MPs and MEPs, as well as members of the party and of the UK Cypriot community, the foreign secretary said that in a meeting in New York last week the United Nations’ special envoy Espen Barth Eide confirmed Hammond’s own feeling over the last 12 months “that the settlement of this long-running problem is now something which is genuinely within our grasp”.
The foreign secretary remarked that “we have in President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci two people who get on well together, who have a clear objective to make a legacy of themselves of reuniting the island.” He added that there also exists the “acquiescence” of the Greek government, as well as “the active encouragement” of the Turkish government. He said “rechecks” that every time he speaks to his Turkish opposite numbers, as had done on Sunday morning with the Turkish foreign minister. Hammond added that Prime Minister Cameron had “grilled” President Erdogan in New York last week on this issue.
As for the UK’s role in the quest for a settlement, the foreign secretary said his country is determined to help in any way it can.
“We are of course one of the guarantor powers of Cyprus’ constitution and we are completely flexible about our future role and relationship to Cyprus in that respect,” he said.
“If it helps, we will consider any option that parties come up with.”
He added that the UK, aware that resolving the outstanding property issues is likely to require significant financial resources, has engaged international players to help cover the cost.
“We have undertaken to work with our partners in the EU, with the United States, to ensure that the international community is able to mobilise to support a settlement with the necessary financial underpinning,” he said.
Although an “eye-watering sum” would probably be needed, Hammond noted, in a conversation with his American counterpart John Kerry “a couple of months ago” they agreed that it is worth the financial support if a rare long-running problem in the region were to be solved.
“I think you can rely on the USA, the UK, the EU to come together to support a settlement,” he told the audience.
Hammond spoke of a “window of opportunity” and said there is a possibility of a referendum next year in Cyprus.
“It will be a historic moment,” he said.
“There is a window of opportunity now, if we miss it the stars may never align in the same way again. So I very much hope that we are on the brink of something really historic here.”
He also made a reference to “additional benefits” from a solution to the Cyprus issue, such as the “fundamental” change in the discussion between EU and Turkey, and a change in the way NATO works.