Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr Ioannis Kasoulides at the House of Commons
London – 13 July 2022
Honorable Members of the Houses of Parliament,Distinguished GuestsLadies and Gentlemen
It is both an honour and a distinct pleasure to be at Westminster Palace this evening to address such a distinguished audience, including many esteemed Members of both Houses of Parliament. I am particularly pleased that this annual event is taking place in-person, this year, after the COVID related restrictions of the last two years.
It is rather evident that my presence comes at a very timely and critical juncture, to say the least. This event provides a unique platform to discuss and exchange views on a variety of different issues pertaining to Cyprus – UK bilateral partnership, the Cyprus problem, as well as other regional and international foreign policy issues.
I would therefore like to thank both the members of the All-Parliamentary Party Group on Cyprus, under the stewardship of Sir Roger Gale, and the National Federation of Cypriots for the organization of this event, and for inviting me to offer some remarks on the issues I have just mentioned and the rationale driving our policies on these issues.
History has traditionally been the driving force behind the relations between Cyprus and the United Kingdom. It constitutes the catalyst for the longstanding close ties we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. It is not a static relationship but one that is an established “special relationship” based on reciprocity and mutual respect. Maybe not as special as the UK-US “special relationship”, but, nevertheless, a very special one indeed. The bonds between our two countries date back in history, as far as the reign of Richard the Lionheart, who left his mark on the island, including what must have been one of the first destination weddings as he married his Queen Berengaria in Cyprus and also exported our famous Commandaria!!
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda. Many of the shared policy priorities between the UK and Cyprus, stem also from our unique Commonwealth family of 56 independent and equal states, home to over 2.5 billion people.
Notable areas of our bilateral cooperation include education, business, services, commerce, but also security and defence related matters. We continue to share our Common Law traditions and follow UK accounting rules, both of which greatly facilitate a seamless connection in investment, commercial and trade exchanges. We are also exploring potential areas of cooperation in the post BREXIT era and are also at the later stages of finalizing an MOU that would put our cooperation in numerous fields on a more structured footing.
The recent agreement on the Non-Military Development in the areas of the British Bases was a historic development which opens up significant economic, tourist and commercial prospects in municipalities and communities that fall within the Bases. Ultimately, this will have a positive impact on many individuals.
However, we are most prominently bound by our common dedication to democratic values and principles. The long history of democracy in this country has always been a beacon of inspiration for our institutions, our laws and our values.
An essential element of our cooperation and relationship is the “people to people” dimension.
Cyprus receives more than one million British tourists every year, many of whom are repeat visitors.
The UK remains a favourite academic destination and at any given time about 1% of the population of Cyprus are studying here in the UK.
The vast majority of the Foreign Ministry personnel, including the Minister, have attended a UK university. Moreover, more than 300,000 Cypriots live in the UK, while 40,000 Brits permanently reside in Cyprus.
Young professionals from Cyprus who have chosen to make the UK their home throughout the years distinguish themselves in the community. We are proud of them and thankful to the UK for welcoming Cypriots to live and work here. The fact that Cypriots living in the UK are held in such high esteem by their fellow Britons makes them the best ambassadors of our island to your island, being fully integrated also in the social fabric of the UK.
Honorable Members,Distinguished Guests,
We are truly witnessing tectonic shifts in the global landscape. War, impending famine in the most vulnerable countries, economic and energy crises.
In these turbulent times for our continent and the severe global spillover following the Russian invasion against Ukraine, it is a matter of principle to uphold the territorial integrity, unity, independence and sovereignty of states. For Cyprus, as you know, these principles are of cardinal importance. Our immediate direct response to the aggression against Ukraine could not have been otherwise. We need to make a compelling argument for a rules-based global order and the primacy of international law. We cannot allow the maxim “might is right” to prevail.
Cyprus strongly condemned the Russian invasion and the gross violations of human rights; we have fully implemented all the sanctions packages decided at the EU level including closing our airspace to Russian aircraft.
We moved swiftly to withdraw authorizations for port visits that had been given to Russian naval vessels. This was done only hours after the invasion and months before the relevant sanctions by the EU against Russian flagged vessels.
The plight of the Ukrainian population forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries is also close to our hearts and resonates with every Cypriot, particularly those who themselves are refugees, including British Cypriots amongst us this evening. It was therefore a natural and automatic response to stand with the people of Ukraine.
My fellow Cypriots did not stock up with essentials or engage in panic buying when the Russian tanks rolled into Ukrainian towns, out of fear of shortages and the looming risk to food security. They collected, mostly through individual contributions, the largest ever humanitarian aid package in the history of our island, in what was a true show of solidarity to the suffering of the people of Ukraine.
It is often said that geography is destiny. Cyprus is located in a politically sensitive and volatile region. What goes on in the wider Middle East and the Balkans is crucial in promoting peace and stability in our neighbourhood.
In the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has worked to create a bilateral and multilateral institutional framework, in which all stakeholders may cooperate harmoniously and work towards creating synergies that are of mutual benefit. An arrangement open to all those that adhere to the set of principles which have come to define the international system following the Second World War. A rules based international order anchored on international law and good neighbourly relations.
Our foreign policy priorities are therefore clear:
Cyprus is a credible, reliable, predictable and dependable partner to our friends, in the region, on the continent and beyond.
It was almost a decade ago when I had the honour to address a similar audience at Westminster Palace and I posited then that the reorientation of Cyprus’ foreign policy was a strategic goal and a priority for this Government. I can declare today that this strategic goal has been achieved
Endurance and resilience through adversity is what describes the hardworking people of Cyprus. Out of the tragic disaster of the 1974 Turkish invasion and continued occupation of over a third of our territory by Turkish troops, Cypriots displayed resilience. Our economy was totally destroyed and we had to urgently attend the needs of 1/3 of our population that was internally displaced. A figure that if were applied to the UK would amount to approximately 20 plus million persons forcibly expelled from their homes. We overcame these harsh conditions, and in a few years, the combined efforts of the government and the private sector led to the “Cyprus’ economic miracle”.
The reaction of our people towards adversity is dignified and determined. In the same way we were able to overcome the harsh economic situation we found ourselves in the beginning of the previous decade. The British Government expeditiously dispatched a team of experts to provide valuable technical assistance to Cyprus and this is something that was greatly appreciated by our Government and people.
Dignified, determined and resilient was the attitude that helped us overcome the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic. The same will be the attitude coming out of the turbulence and instability that this current crisis brings.
We stand at a critical juncture as regards the Cyprus Problem.
The Cyprus Government has repeatedly expressed its commitment for a swift resumption of talks and has demonstrated its dedication to addressing the need to cultivate a positive climate before and during the negotiations. We have proposed a set of bold Confidence Building Measures with the aim to provide Turkish Cypriots with the opportunity to use the port of Famagusta, under EU supervision and the airport at Tymbou under the control of the UN, following international rules and legality, in exchange for the handover of the fenced area of Varosha to the UN, in order for the rightful owners to be allowed to return, as prescribed by UN Security Council Resolutions.
We have also taken unilateral steps such as:
• The introduction of expedited procedures for the issue of globally acceptable vaccination passes to the Turkish Cypriots. • The expansion of the list of goods allowed at the crossing points to enter the single market to include processed foods.
To alleviate the dire economic situation of the Turkish Cypriots caused by fluctuations in the Turkish economy in combination with their continued dependence on and control by Turkey, Trade Union initiatives have welcomed many Turkish Cypriots to take jobs in the government-controlled areas of Cyprus.
These significant and tangible Confidence Building Measures have regrettably been rejected by the Turkish Cypriot leadership.
Our Government aims for a solution the soonest possible, through negotiations, on the basis and in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and in the framework of the Good Offices of Secretary General of the UN. The agreed framework of a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation is unfortunately undermined by both Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot leadership that focusses on upending the process and insists on unacceptable preconditions for the resumption of talks. Unilateral actions of opening parts of the fenced area of Varosha and provocative inflammatory rhetoric, needless to say, do little to help improve the climate between the two communities. At the same time our Government refrains from rhetoric or actions in response to these provocations.
In this context, let me stress that we hope for a constructive UK stance on the adoption of the next UNSC Resolution in the coming days. We hope that the UK, as a Permanent Member of the Security Council and penholder for Cyprus related resolutions, will contribute in a positive manner.
Turkey has proven to be an unreliable partner to its western allies. It has ignored sanctions, for weeks it has performed a publicity stunt as mediator between Russia and Ukraine and more recently sought a role in the wheat crisis. Allegations of allowing Russian oligarchs to use Turkey to avoid sanctions or that grain stolen from Ukraine has somehow found its way to Turkey have not yet been disproven.
Is Ankara interested in a regional, rules-based order from which everyone stands to gain? Or is it playing a zero-sum game in an effort to exert regional dominance at the expense of the rest? I want to underline again; we cannot afford the luxury of wishful thinking when it comes to such crucial matters.
We do not ask of our partners and friends to choose sides, but rather to choose between what is right and what is wrong. Global champions of values and principles such as the United Kingdom can compartmentalize their relations with a regional bully like Turkey. You may enjoy excellent bilateral and trade relations with Turkey but importantly, maintain a strong stance upholding values and principles when it comes to the Cyprus problem.
More than ever before in our long history, Cyprus and the United Kingdom need to work harmoniously together and I look forward to the strengthening of the bilateral relations between our two countries.
In ending, allow me to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to the members of the APPG, both those present and those who could not be with us, as well as other Parliamentarians, for your continued support, solidarity and dedication to the just cause of Cyprus and with the people of Cyprus in our efforts to reunite our island and its people and end the Turkish occupation that is nearly a half century old. Thank you from a grateful nation and its people.