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Biden’s visit will not ‘upgrade the north’

US Vice President Joe Biden

By Elias Hazou

US Vice President Joe Biden will meet Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu in his residence tomorrow to downplay complaints from political parties that the north is to be ‘upgraded’ by the meeting.

In a statement yesterday, the office of the Presidency said Nicosia has received assurances from the US government “that in order to avoid any attempt to exploit the meeting for other purposes, the Vice President will meet Mr. Eroglu not in his usual office but in an adjoining building, without any symbols whatsoever.”

Biden will see Eroglu in the latter’s capacity as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, the statement added, indicating that Eroglu did not have the status of head of state.

The adjacent building cited is understood to be situated in the same complex as Eroglu’s ‘presidential’ office. According to a White House briefing, the meeting will take place with Eroglu on Thursday afternoon at his residence.

“The visit by the American Vice President to the Republic of Cyprus, a strong strategic partner of the USA, as it was characteristically mentioned, aims to further cultivate our bilateral relations and the role that the Republic of Cyprus, following also the discovery of hydrocarbons within its Exclusive Economic Zone, as an energy and financial hub in the region,” the Presidency’s statement added.

Since Biden’s trip was announced, opposition parties – DIKO, EDEK the Citizens’ Alliance and to a lesser extent AKEL – have been warning that the status of the breakaway north would be enhanced once the American VP travels there and meets officials.

The ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ is not recognised by the United Nations or any country other than Turkey. Opposition parties here insist however that Biden’s trip to the north will somehow impart legitimacy to the breakaway regime.

And yesterday’s government assurances failed to assuage Giorgos Lillikas, head of the Citizens Alliance.

Lillikas demanded that Nicosia should seek an unequivocal statement from Biden to the effect that the Cyprus Republic is the only legitimate government on the island.

Lillikas also urged the government not to consent to escalating EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian standoff. It has been confirmed that the Russia-Ukraine situation and the EU response will be on the agenda of Biden’s talks here.

“Countermeasures from Russia can break the back of the Cypriot economy,” Lillikas warned.

But the same party leaders that are riled over the American VP’s visit to the north will be attending an official lunch at the Palace on Thursday with Biden as the guest of honour. Rena Yavasi, a press officer with the Citizens Alliance, said Lillikas has also been invited and has accepted.

However she added that “a lot of things can happen until then” and hinted that Lillikas might reconsider attending should Biden in the interim make remarks that are seen as upgrading the standing of the breakaway north.

Whereas the Citizens Alliance “welcomes” Biden’s visit to Cyprus, she said, the meeting with Eroglu should have taken place at a different, “neutral” venue, such as the UN buffer zone.

The American VP arrives on the island on Wednesday evening and departs on Friday.

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