British Diplomat Says No Back-up Plan for Cyprus Unity

FILE - The gated entrance of the Royal Air Forces base in Akrotiri, near the coastal city of Limassol in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

With the last round of Cyprus reunification talks more than a year collapsed and no resumption in site, there’s no other way to find an answer except more negotiations, the British High Commissioner for Cyprus Stephen Lillie said.

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, Lillie said “division would be plan B and there isn`t a plan B,” and that, “It is important that everybody involved seizes the opportunity now before the momentum from Crans Montana is lost forever.”

He was referring to the talks at a Swiss resort that fell apart in July, 2017 when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove an army from the occupied northern third held since an unlawful 1974 invasion.

“Our clear view is that bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is the best available solution. It may not be perfect, but it is the best most practical available solution,” he said, repeating yet again a plan that has failed repeatedly and gained no leverage in talks for years.

He also said the status quo – a divided island – wasn’t an option. “Unofficial division like we have now is not sustainable,” he said even though that’s the way it’s been for 44 years and counting.
“As the northern part of Cyprus becomes more reliant on Turkey and as Turkish influence grows there, it becomes more difficult to reunify Cyprus. That’s I think something that all Cypriots need to reflect on,” he added.

“If you think it is difficult to resolve the Cyprus issue 44 years after the invasion, it will be even more difficult if you wait longer and longer. The longer you wait the less favorable the conditions will be,” he said, offering no ideas on how to get the two sides talking again.

Britain, the former brutal Colonial ruler which had occupied the island previously, still keeps a military base there and, along with Turkey and Greece, is a guarantor of security apart from a small detachment of United Nations peacekeepers at the Green Line border through the Capital of Nicosia and through the island.

He said the poor economic state of the occupied territory, recognized only by Turkey, makes it imperative for that side to hasten negotiations as Cyprus has authorized drilling offshore by foreign energy companies, with Erdogan demanding a share of any revenues and threatening to start drilling unless Turkish-Cypriots take part in the process.

He has sent warships into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize, in a bid to keep the foreign companies from looking for oil and gas but hasn’t found a partner to drill.

“It shows how interdependent the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish economies now are, and that is something that has happened over a period of years, and in the future, this interdependence will continue and grow unless there is a settlement to the Cyprus problem. But often people talk as if there is no urgency to resolve the Cyprus problem,” he said.

“Both Cypriot communities have their own respective views on what security means for them and there needs to be a lot of work done to bridge the gap between the two parties on security,” he said without offering suggestions.