Cyprus-UK rift over Straw visit to island’s north

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s visit to Cyprus is in jeopardy over Greek-Cypriot objections to his planned meeting with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in the Turkish-held north of the island later this month, officials said yesterday. An official close to the issue told AFP «it’s highly unlikely» Straw would come to Cyprus if the row over meeting Talat at his office in the northern sector of divided Nicosia was not resolved. The island’s internationally recognized government has reacted strongly to the idea, arguing that such a meeting would imply recognition of the breakaway state by Britain. Meanwhile, Britain insists that Cyprus has moved the diplomatic goalposts and is only doing what ministers and officials have done in the past. «As you know, the government of Cyprus has expressed concern about the foreign secretary’s intention to call on the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community in his office,» British High Commissioner Peter Millett told reporters in Nicosia. «Calling on the Turkish-Cypriot leader in his office has been the practice of senior visitors of the international community, including UK ministers for many years,» he added. Millett said such a meeting would «not represent any change of UK policy of non-recognition» of the north. The Cyprus government disagrees, arguing no additional terms were set for Straw’s visit – the first in a decade by a British foreign secretary – and that most visiting foreign dignitaries comply with its wishes. Talat confirmed the meeting last week even though Cyprus and London are still negotiating the exact dates for when the visit can take place. «Mr Straw expressed his intention to visit Cyprus and we are ready, under certain conditions, that is, respect for the practice followed up until today and sensitivity toward the Cyprus Republic,» government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said earlier yesterday. He said the same diplomatic protocol should be followed as agreed to when British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott came to Cyprus last October. Talat was absent during his visit, reportedly, after Prescott declined an invitation to meet him at his official residence in the north. However, Prescott did meet the so-called prime minister of the Turkish-held north, Feder Sebit Soyer, at the British High Commission residence in the north. The matter of foreign dignitaries traveling in the north is a highly sensitive one for the Cypriot government which is implacably imposed to any upgrade of the north’s international status.

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