In the fourth article looking at the Cyprus problem from a diplomatic viewpoint, Andreas Pirishis examines how the Soviet Union scuppered a major effort by the US and UK for a solution

On many occasions we asked the US government to take a lead in efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.

When Jimmy Carter was elected US president in 1976, church bells in Cyprus were ringing in celebration. We were looking forward to the active participation of his government in a new initiative for a solution.

But when the Carter administration, in cooperation with the governments of Canada and UK, submitted a solution plan we rejected it, not because of its provisions and content, but because of its origin.

The testimony of the then assistant general-secretary of Akel, Andreas Fantis, in an interview in Phileleftheros was extremely revealing.

“The central committee of Akel, having studied the plan, positioned itself in favour of its acceptance, expressing the view that it was an incredibly positive plan and that finally the Cyprus problem was heading to its solution,” said Fantis.

“At the beginning of December, the full central committee convened. It discussed the document of the Political Bureau for the political developments, among which there was the framework for the solution of the Cyprus problem that was submitted by the governments of the US, UK and Canada. In its decision, the central committee rejected the American-Anglo-Canadian plan.”

What happened to make the party change its position on this plan from positive to negative?

The events that took place behind the scenes are as follows:

“A few days after the submission of the plan ‘Framework for the solution of the Cyprus problem’, we were invited for lunch at the residence of the then Soviet ambassador Astavin. During lunch and especially afterwards, there was discussion of the ‘framework’ with a clear rejectionist orientation. That was enough.

“The central committee secretariat of Akel convened the next day, reconsidered its earlier decision and resolved to convene the political bureau to discuss and decide on the ‘framework’.

“Both the political bureau as well as the central committee accepted the

recommendation of the party Secretariat for rejection of the ‘framework’ proposed by the three Western countries.

“It should be noted that in addition to the above, the Soviet news agency Tass had in the meantime issued a statement that accused the American-Anglo-Canadian plan as a Nato intervention in the affairs of the Cypriot people.” (Excerpt from the book by P. Dillinger page 336-337).

In other words, while Cyprus invited the US to engage in initiatives for a solution, the Soviet Union considered it an intervention in our internal affairs and Akel agreed with it.

It is unheard of. The prevailing impression today is that the Soviet Union sought and demanded from Akel the rejection of the Western framework because it did not want the Cyprus problem solved by a US initiative. In its view such a development would have strengthened the prestige of the US in a key and sensitive area. More importantly, for the Kremlin, a non-solution would sustain the Cyprus crisis that has plagued the Southeastern flank of Nato for years, by maintaining tension in Greece-Turkey relations.

American and British bases

Another historical example of how unrealistic our judgements and views of significant events were, was the way we saw the role of the British during the 1974 invasion.

Public opinion in Greece and Cyprus at the time was rife with rumours about an American and British international conspiracy aimed at destroying the Cyprus Republic, so that the US could set up air bases, and the presence of the British bases would be guaranteed.

Despite the outrageous nature of these wild allegations, they were circulated without any attempt at refutation or rebuttal. These rumours became fact and poisoned the minds of the gullible, vulnerable and angry Greek Cypriot public, negatively impacting relations with the US and Britain for years.

Decades later, we realise that despite the continuing occupation, the

Americans did not ask for, nor did they get any bases in Cyprus, either in the Republic or in the occupied area. They simply continued to have the same facilities as before the invasion, with the consent of all governments of the Republic of Cyprus.

As far as Britain was concerned, British official documents show that in 1974 it was considering pulling out of their bases in Cyprus and not keep them forever.

Dr Andreas Konstantinos, a researcher of Cypriot descent who has carried out in-depth research into British government archives, in his book “America, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis”, (page 134), included the following enlightening details:

“During the summer of 1974, British policy on the bases changed dramatically, because Whitehall was seriously studying the total withdrawal from Cyprus. Minister Sir John Hunt has revealed since, that it was (foreign secretary) James Callaghan who raised the issue for discussion. Following that, the Defence Review Steering Committee Sub-Committee ordered the preparation of studies on this issue.

“One study, obviously, seriously influenced by the disappointing experiences of the Cyprus crisis, concluded that the sovereign bases were more of a liability than an asset and that the strategic value of Cyprus was declining. On August 23, Callaghan declared: ‘I don’t see any future in Cyprus for us…So let us not delay our withdrawal’.

“On September 5, at the cabinet meeting, the committee presented its findings and four days later the DOPC agreed that the best choice for Britain was the total withdrawal from Cyprus, and if possible, the withdrawal must be presented within the framework of a satisfactory settlement of the Cyprus problem.”

As can be seen from the information presented by Konstantinos, all these years Cyprus was following a policy towards the UK that was based on mistaken assumptions.

In the final analysis, were the British and Americans Cyprus’ big enemies and the non-aligned our saviours as public sentiment suggested? Were these issues ever discussed openly by our politicians or our media? Have these questions ever been seriously addressed by our governments, or have they just gone with the flow?

Andreas Pirishis is a former permanent secretary of the Cyprus foreign ministry and a former ambassador