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Full speed ahead for Biden visit

By Elias Hazou

A FLURRY of diplomatic activity is underway ahead of the visit next week of US Vice President Joe Biden to the island followed by the expected visit of Secretary of State John Kerry.

This week US Ambassador to Cyprus John Koenig has been seeing leaders of Greek Cypriot parties, including of main opposition AKEL.

He has also reportedly met six times with Kudret Ozersay, the chief Turkish Cypriot negotiator. Ozersay told Kibris newspaper that the Turkish Cypriots view Biden’s visit in a positive light, adding that the US government wishes to “contribute” to peace negotiations and confidence-building measures between the two communities.

Reports suggest however that a meeting between Biden and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu is not certain after all.

The last US Vice President to come to the island was Lyndon Johnson in 1962; and the back-to-back visits to Cyprus by US officials of the calibre of Biden and Kerry would be unprecedented.

During Biden’s stay here, the United States is expected to announce the financing of a master plan for the occupied town of Famagusta, including the fenced-off area known as Varosha. It has also been reported that he will be allowed to enter Famagusta for inspection and to facilitate their studies on the master plan.

Biden arrives next Wednesday, under head-of-state protocol and accompanied by an armed security detail. It’s understood his itinerary is still being worked out.

The agenda of the talks with the government would revolve around the Cyprus question, energy, and the unfolding situation in the Ukraine.

Officially, the purpose of Biden’s visit –as well as the heightened US involvement – is to facilitate the peace process.

But commentators have been observing that Famagusta is not sufficient reason for the United States’ no.2 man to take time out of his hectic schedule and spend two days in Cyprus.

Instead, there is speculation that Famagusta is merely a cover for the visit, the real purpose of which may have to do with US policy to get Cyprus (along with Israel) on board a plan to export their gas reserves to Europe and thus reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.

Meanwhile opposition parties continued raising doubts as to the purpose and usefulness of Biden’s visit.

In a new statement yesterday, DIKO warned that the standing of the breakaway regime would be upgraded should Biden cross over to the north.

DIKO went on to accuse ruling DISY – which has welcomed Biden’s visit and has downplayed the risks of raising the breakaway regime’s profile – of inconsistency.

It cited the fact that in 2008 DISY was railing against the visit to the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ by then German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The Citizens’ Alliance aired similar discontent, arguing that Biden’s presence in the north will ultimately serve the interests of the Turkish side.

The nationalist outfit ELAM meanwhile zeroed in on reports that Biden’s son Hunter recently joined the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas company.

The company, Burisma Holdings, is based in Cyprus. It was incorporated in 2006. Though little information is available on the company, it does not appear to have interests or operations in the eastern Mediterranean.

ELAM connected the dots nonetheless, saying that “this explains Biden senior’s interest in a Cyprus solution.”

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