Philip Hammond is MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
The prospects for a unification of Cyprus are the best they have been for a generation. In many ways, the stars are aligning – the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities are committed, the Guarantor Powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) are supportive, and the international community is committed to help. Significant challenges remain, however, and I was in Cyprus yesterday to offer UK support to the UN-led process and to both communities in their efforts.
The settlement process aims to reunite Cyprus on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality as defined by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Since May, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci (the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, respectively) have met regularly and made good progress. They have created renewed hope and momentum for a comprehensive solution that will benefit all Cypriots, and I commend them for their leadership. Thanks to their efforts, there is now an opportunity to reach an historic agreement.
During this, my second visit in four months, I met with President Anastasiades, Mr Akinci and my Foreign Minister colleague Ioannis Kasoulides. I reiterated the UK’s strong support for the efforts of the two communities to reach a settlement, and stressed that the UK will do whatever it can to help reach agreement. Britain has been, and always will be, a strong and true friend of Cyprus. We have a large Cypriot diaspora, from both communities, in the UK and have always worked to strengthen the bonds that link us.
A settlement would be good for all Cypriots, creating significant economic opportunities. The respected Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) has forecast that the peace dividend for the island’s economy from a Cyprus settlement would amount to EUR 20 billion over the next 20 years. And it would add 2.8 percentage points to real GDP growth.
It would also strengthen Cyprus as a beacon of stability in a troubled region, providing a boost for regional security, and opening the possibility of new energy and economic partnerships in the region. It would contribute new momentum to the EU accession process of Turkey, a crucial EU partner in tackling security and migration challenges.
In the event of a settlement, the UK would be prepared to cede nearly half of the land mass of the Sovereign Base Areas to a reunited Cyprus. As a Guarantor Power, I made clear to the leaders that the UK is prepared to consider whatever security arrangements for a reunited Cyprus the parties can agree.
I also met some of the British peacekeeping troops who serve on the buffer zone between the two communities. Our troops serve under a UN mandate and their presence is a stark reminder of the costs of this frozen conflict and potential for a peace dividend on the island. The UK has nearly 280 service personnel on deployment at the buffer zone – the 180km stretch of land that currently separates the two communities. At some parts it is only a few metres wide, and British troops have contributed to maintaining the peace here since 1974.
As part of the visit, I met with the UN Head of Mission and the UN Committee on Missing Persons. The Committee on Missing Persons is doing the vitally important work of finding and identifying the estimated 2,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots who went missing during the violence of 1974, when 170,000 Greek Cypriots went South, and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots went North.
I am not alone in focussing on Cyprus; my German colleague, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was in Cyprus a few days ago and US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese representatives all plan to visit over the next couple of weeks to lend their backing for a deal to unify the island.
Espen Eide, the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor for Cyprus, updated me on the ongoing talks, recent developments and next steps during my visit yesterday. I look forward to welcoming him to London in the near future.
Experienced Cyprus watchers will counsel that we shouldn’t raise our hopes too high. The most intractable issues of property (the rights of those who lost property in 1974) and security (what, if any, security guarantees will remain in force after the settlement) are still not resolved. But real progress has been, and is being, made. As President Anastasiades put it when he met David Cameron in London in 2014, he wants Cyprus to be part of the solution to the problems the EU and the West face, not just a problem. When there are a myriad of threats facing us from other sources, I’m sure we can all agree that is a goal worth working hard for.
I and my international colleagues will keep supporting and pursuing this effort to re-unify the island of Cyprus, supporting two leaders who genuinely want to find a solution.