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Callaghan was “not prepared” to testify about talks with Turkey prior to invasion – declassified letter

James Callaghan

 

A limited number of files on Cyprus dating from 1976 are included in the latest release of Foreign Office archives in London and contain
a letter by then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan relating to the invasion.

The letter dated January 28, 1976 to the head of the Parliament’s Select Committee on Foreign Affairs concerns the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Cyprus. The Committee had just been reappointed following its previous examination of the events that led to the 1974 Turkish invasion.

Callaghan expresses his disagreement with the “ambitious programme of work” of the Select Committee and especially the intention of its members to quiz him “about events during the Cyprus crisis of 1974 including ‘what Mr Ecevit had said to the Secretary of State about giving the Turks a free run’.”

He thought that “there was a general feeling that if ministers were to give evidence to such Select Committees they should not normally go further than they would be prepared to do in addressing the House as a whole.”

In his view, the widened terms of reference of the Select Committee “would make even more difficult if not impossible the chances of getting some progress on the complicated Cyprus problem.”

Therefore, he makes clear in no uncertain terms that he “would resist any attempt to call for papers about diplomatic business on Cyprus including our negotiations with the previous Turkish Government” and that he would not be prepared to give evidence on what passed between Ecevit and himself during the period when the former was Prime Minister of Turkey, that is during the invasion in Cyprus.
Callaghan penned a similar protest letter to his Prime Minister.

Previously reported files from the UK National Archives have revealed that in the end Callaghan did testify in front of the Select Committee on Cyprus, just three weeks after his letter, and although the Committee’s report did not include such details he had referred to the UK stance during the Turkish invasion.

Callaghan had commented that although the UK government had a legal right to intervene, such an intervention would have no political of practical merit, since the UK could not “restore” the 1960 constitution of Cyprus, which, he said, was not functioning since the early 1960s.

A separate file records the discussion that Callaghan had at the Foreign Office with his Turkish counterpart Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil on March 22, 1976.

The discussion had focused on the military aid embargo by the USA against Turkey. Callaghan had told the Turkish foreign minister that “the key lay in Cyprus” and that Turkey would need to convince Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to “make a constructive reply” to written proposals that were then expected by Glafcos Clerides. It could then be demonstrated that there was movement on the Cyprus question and the US Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger might therefore be able to get the Congress to agree to “greater flexibility” over aid to Turkey.

To Callaghan’s comment that he could not really put pressure on the Greeks because he was “not very popular” after the evidence he had given to the Commons Select Committee on Cyprus, the Turkish foreign minister said that Ankara had told Denktash that “he did not need Turkish permission to say ‘Yes’… but only to say ‘No’.” He concluded by saying that Denktash would put forward a substantial reply to the proposals of Clerides, whom the Turkish government “were ready to help stay” in his position.
Callaghan said he would do what he could to help with the Cypriots and Kissinger, but he did not have any influence on the US Congress.



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