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Famagusta at the centre of Biden’s visit (updated)

US Vice President Joe Biden

By Elias Hazou

US VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden is due on the island next week, the government confirmed on Monday.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Biden was visiting at the invitation of President Nicos Anastasiades.

The visit was confirmed by the White House, who issued a press release on Monday saying that the vice president will visit Cyprus on May 21, following a visit to Romania. Biden will be escorted by his wife, Dr Jill Biden. The US vice president is to meet with “political leaders from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, civil society representatives, and faith leaders”, according to the press release.

Describing Biden’s upcoming visit as “extremely significant”, Christodoulides said it would be substantive, not ceremonial.

During his stay here, the US vice president is to discuss developments in the Cyprus peace talks, confidence-building measures and natural gas issues.

Christodoulides added that Biden is well-versed in the Cyprus problem and on the issue of Famagusta.

The United States has an interest in natural gas in the region, and is therefore keen on a settlement of the Cyprus issue, he added.

Noting that Nicosia was “making the most” of this US interest, the spokesman referred to Anastasiades’ statement that natural gas should be used an incentive, particularly where Turkey is concerned, for solving the island’s decades-long dispute.

Anastasiades had said energy cooperation between Cyprus and Turkey was possible provided that a political solution is reached first. Turkey has warned of repercussions should Greek Cypriots begin monetising their natural gas without sharing the wealth with Turkish Cypriots.

During his stay on the island, the US vice president is also set to meet with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. Christodoulides said arrangements are being made in advance to rule out any actions during Biden’s visit to the north that might upgrade the status of the breakaway regime.

It’s understood this is the first visit to the island by a US vice president since Lyndon Johnson travelled here in 1962.

Local media are reporting that during Biden’s trip the United States is set to announce the financing of a master plan for the occupied town of Famagusta, including the fenced-off area known as Varosha.

One of the pending issues is to clarify the prospect of the return of Varosha under UN administration, as the Greek Cypriot side is proposing.

Sources told the Cyprus News Agency that experts will be allowed to enter Famagusta for inspection and to facilitate their studies on the master plan.

The United Nations has called for the return of Varosha to its lawful inhabitants but so far Ankara has refused to comply with such calls.

Reports said that during Biden’s visit an announcement should also be expected on a de-mining agreement in three areas, two in the government-controlled areas and one in the north.

Meanwhile the issue of Famagusta as well as Biden’s visit to Cyprus are expected to be discussed in Washington on Tuesday at a meeting of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides.

The agenda of those talks would feature the Cyprus question, energy, the unfolding situation in the Ukraine and other issues of mutual interest, the government spokesman said.

Washington had informed Nicosia of Biden’s trip last week. The US government was planning to announce the visit on Monday, but were beaten to the punch by the Turkish Cypriot leader.

Eroglu apparently spilled the beans to Turkish newspaper Habertürk, forcing Nicosia to acknowledge Biden’s trip ahead of time.

According to reports, the Habertürk journalist, in the north to interview the Turkish Cypriot leader, spotted US Ambassador John Koenig as the latter was departing from Eroglu’s ‘presidential’ residence. When the reporter inquired about Koenig’s visit, Eroglu proceeded to reveal that he and Koenig had talked about Biden’s planned visit to the island.

Habertürk ran its story on Sunday. On Monday, however, Eroglu’s office released a statement denying that he had disclosed, on the record, the details of Biden’s visit during the interview.

In the same interview, the hard-line Eroglu was quoted as saying that the best solution in Cyprus would be the creation of two separate states. Eroglu also conveyed the impression that he was not happy with Biden’s visit, adding that the Americans were primarily concerned with the interests of the Greek Cypriots.

Asked to comment on Eroglu’s remarks, the government spokesman said UN resolutions spell out what form a solution should take – a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

It has been three months since the latest round of peace talks got underway. Commentators say lack of progress in the Cyprus negotiations has elicited more active US involvement, with Washington eager to facilitate a peace deal in at least one troubled region of the Middle East.

 

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