By Angelos Anastasiou
DESPITE the political hysteria caused by reports that British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond planned to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on April 1 – the 60th anniversary of the armed struggle against British colonial rule – it looks likely he will not even be in Cyprus on that date, if at all.
If Hammond does come to Cyprus – and that has not even been confirmed yet – it will most likely be on Tuesday, March 31 and he will depart the same day, a source at the British High Commission told the Cyprus Mail on Saturday.
Earlier this week, daily Phileleftheros reported that Hammond was scheduled to visit Cyprus on March 31 and meet with President Nicos Anastasiades and the Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides before visiting Eroglu, a day later.
But the symbolism of the date the British diplomat would ostensibly be visiting the occupied areas and meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader, as well as the precedent set by former President Tassos Papadopoulos in 2006, when he refused to see then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw because Straw insisted on also meeting then Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat at his office in the north, sparked political uproar in Cyprus.
Most political parties have been issuing statements all week lambasting Hammond’s reported intent of not just meeting Eroglu in the north, but of doing so on April 1.
“It is an unacceptably provocative action that must be prevented by any means possible,” charged junior government-coalition partners EVROKO, while former coalition partners DIKO warned that the visit would simply “reaffirm Britain’s unacceptable traditional role in downgrading the Republic of Cyprus and upgrading the pseudo-state”, urging Anastasiades to follow Papadopoulos’ example from 2006.
Hammond has been touring Europe to promote Prime Minister David Cameron’s “vision for the EU”, and is in Lausanne, Switzerland, this weekend for the Iran nuclear talks. The summit is scheduled to last until Tuesday – the day he is supposed to arrive in Cyprus – but on Friday Hammond left open the possibility of extending the talks, saying that “negotiators might need more time”.
“There is no confirmation of the visit yet,” the source from the High Commission told the Sunday Mail. “The Foreign Secretary is currently on a series of visits in the region and hopes to visit Cyprus soon but nothing has been confirmed at this time.”
A subsequent story run by Phileleftheros, which first stirred up the issue, cited sources claiming that Hammond’s schedule has been amended to include all the planned meetings on Tuesday, March 31, and the same-day departure, suggesting the diplomat was forced to backpedal due to the negative media attention the visit had garnered.
“I’ve seen a lot of press coverage regarding the visit and the schedule, but [the Cyprus Mail] were the only ones to actually call and ask about it,” the source from the High Commission said.
Meanwhile, although the government has refrained from commenting on the issue thus far, a similar issue arose during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Cyprus last May, when he met with Anastasiades before meeting with Eroglu. At the time, Biden had made a point of holding the Eroglu meeting at the Turkish Cypriot leader’s home, adjacent to the so-called Presidential palace in occupied Nicosia, with no insignia of the breakaway regime visible anywhere onsite.