By Stefanos Evripidou
TURKEY has started to realise that the status quo on the island does not benefit it economically, militarily or politically, raising hope for a solution, US vice President Joe Biden told a Greek American audience.
Biden made the comment during a 40-minute speech, almost half of it dedicated to Cyprus, given to over 1,500 people at a Greek Orthodox Congress in Philadelphia.
According to Philly.com news, he spent a great deal of his time talking about the Cyprus problem, noting that he has been working with others for years to resolve this issue.
One of the “great disappointments” of his career was that after 40 years, which he described as a long, long time, there are still Turkish troops in Cyprus.
The vice president expressed cautious optimism that there could be a fair settlement in the near future, a compromise that would be beneficial to all sides.
He told the Philadelphia crowd about his trip to Cyprus in May, and his crystal clear statement on arrival that there is only one legitimate government on the island.
Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported that Biden highlighted two main points on Cyprus. Turkish soldiers should not have stepped foot on the island without the request of the government, he said.
“And second, there is only one government on the island. That is my position, the position of the US and the position of all governments in the world, except one.”
In an effort to explain his cautious optimism on Cyprus, Biden listed three points.
First, under the leadership of the new Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus has become a “genuine strategic partner of the US”.
The two countries have never worked so closely to increase trade and investments and deal with terrorism, he said, adding that Cyprus was a key link in the war against terrorism, helping to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
Little Cyprus has taken on a disproportionate role compared to its size in a strategic relationship that is clearly in the US’ national interest, CNA quoted the vice president as saying.
A second point that makes him optimistic is the hydrocarbons discovered off Cyprus and Israel, and potentially off Greece and Lebanon, giving Cyprus a chance to play a leading role in bringing countries together and enhancing Europe’s energy security. The discoveries should change the rules of the game in the region if the countries meet and work together.
A third point is the increased awareness in the Turkish government on the benefits of a Cyprus solution, said Biden, who speaks regularly to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, especially after the latest developments in Iraq.
The Turkish government is starting to understand, for practical reasons, that the status quo on the island is not conducive to them economically, militarily or politically, and that there is a significant potential benefit in a bizonal, bicommunal federation, said Biden.
He repeated the view often heard in Nicosia, that “Turkey is the key”.
Turkey should play a more constructive role in this regard, he said, adding this will be in its interest, considering that its security is under threat from the Russians in the Black Sea, from the collapse of Syria in the south, and Sunni militants (ISIL) in the east.
After speaking with Turkish Cypriot representatives, he got the impression there is a desire for a solution, that they’ve had enough of the status quo.
It is now understood that progress is in everyone’s interest, and that wasn’t the case before, he said.
The American vice president also spoke of his personal relationship with the Cypriot president and first lady, and the dinner they hosted at the Anastasiades’ residence in Limassol on his arrival, as well as the long friendly discussion the two men had on the verandah.
He described Anastasiades as a good and decent man.