Unfair arbiter

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s tour in Nicosia, Athens and Ankara could have been a productive one. Instead the Blair government, neglectful of British traditions, rushed to lend its support to the latest Turkish proposals for a Cyprus settlement, hence estranging London from the legitimate government in Nicosia and undermining its potential role as mediator. The EU has been willing to acknowledge Britain’s authority in the Cyprus issue, if only because most nations of the 25-member bloc are unwilling to deal with it. Another European power, France, has in the past exploited British clumsiness over the Cyprus issue in order to push its own agenda, most recently in the summer of 2005. Straw launched his tour not with the purpose of reviving the reunification talks but to confirm his government’s policies. He met with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in the latter’s office in the breakaway north, irking officials in Nicosia as well as Athens. Moreover, Straw said the Turkish package of proposals – namely concerning the opening of Turkish ports and airports to Greek-Cypriot ships and planes in return for the lifting of restrictions on the Turkish occupied north – «needs to be taken seriously.» Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou responded to British maneuvering by suggesting that Britain is too biased to be a fair arbiter and that the issue should be taken to the tribunal at The Hague. The British government is certain to reject that proposal, but it is clear that Nicosia will gradually raise the issue of guarantor powers – a notion that is incompatible with existing EU principles – and the question of the sovereign British bases. Indeed, Straw appears to be serving British interests on Cyprus.

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