Outgoing British High Commissioner in Nicosia, Mathew Kidd, has underlined the importance of the Cyprus peace process to start quickly, noting that the challenge of making progress gets harder and not easier.
In an interview to the Cyprus News Agency, Kidd said that the Cyprus problem has not turned into a secondary issue as a result of developments in the wider region, pointing out that London is ready to be part of the preparation, the creation of understanding, the development of ideas in the way it was before, provided that this is welcome by the parties.
He also spoke about the importance of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) in Cyprus, noting that the operation carried out by the US, France and the UK, against Syria, was very specific, very limited and designed to be as unprovocative as possible.
Invited to evaluate the results of the informal dinner on the 16th of April between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, after months of stagnation, the the British High Commissioner said that the leaders ‘seem to have agreed that they both want to use the idea of consultation missions by the UN to clarify the way forward which is good because it implies that they do both want there to be a way forward.”
‘I do think that it is important that whatever is going to happen should start happen quickly because after such a long delay since last summer and with other things that are happening, the world is not waiting, the challenge of making progress gets harder and not easier. So the sooner that anything that can be started gets going, the better’ he underlined.
Replying to a question, he said that the UN will have a role to play but the mind set has to be from the leaders.
As regards London’s role, he said that it is a difficult question to answer ‘because we don’t know what exactly they (the leaders) talked about (during their tete a tete meeting at the informal dinner).
London, he added, ‘ would assume that there will be a part of the discussion that needs to involve the guarantor powers, we would expect that and we would be ready to do that of course, and we would be ready and expect to be part of the preparation, the creation of understanding, the development of ideas in the way we were before as well, if that is what is helpful and the Cypriot parties welcome, then we will be ready to do that as before’, adding that the process is Cypriot – led.
Asked about the UNSG’s framework (Guterres Framework), he said that the framework as the UNSG presented it in July (at the Crans Montana Cyprus talks) ‘was a really important piece of machinery. It described for the first time, a way of bringing together and balancing those points and it would be really good if it can be used to complete that part of the negotiation.”
‘But exactly how it is used wasn’t ever discussed. So you can not really say that there is a method of using it that was agreed in July and can be put into practice. It was a method, a concept, a very useful one, but there will still need to be a discussion, an agreement about how to use it, how to get from the very general way in which it was discussed in July into something that can lead directly into a completely ripe conclusion’ Kidd told CNA.
As regards Turkey’s challenges in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and their impact on the Cyprus issue, Kidd said that ‘things that have happened in the drilling area, in the past few months, have added to tensions, to mutual mistrust.”
“Even without being directly part of the process and they never have been, they now constitute part of the, the climate, part of the backdrop, within which any resumed process needs to take place,” he noted.
Ιn the same way, he added, some of the recent developments between Greece and Turkey are part of the background now and not a helpful part of the background either.
So, he said, ‘however that background of hydrocarbons is dealt with or left out of the process as it resumes, if it resumes, is part of what both sides, all the parties, will have in their minds from now on, and so it will need, in one way or the other, to be taken into account.”
If the fact of hydrocarbons is ever going to be able to be a positive incentive, a way of making both sides keener to achieve a settlement, he said, ‘you cannot do that while not having any contact between the parties on the subject at all.”
‘How they do it, when they do it is absolutely for them to think about’ he pointed out.
Cyprus issue not a secondary one
Asked if developments in the region have turned the Cyprus problem into a secondary issue, he said that the problem is not a secondary one, noting that the turbulence in the region ‘makes it all the more attractive to try to achieve a settlement because Cyprus cannot just cease to be a problem that we have to worry about but it can actually become a positive factor in contributing to settlements of other problems nearby and can provide an example of how problems can be solved.’
‘And so the readiness to support the leaders here in covering the last ground to achieve a success in this area – where there is so little success – all the greater, but still under their leadership not taking it over. The more stable the place the better in a difficult region, of course,’ he pointed out.
Syria strikes and the SBA
Asked about the operation carried out by the US, France and the UK, against Syria, the High Commissioner said that the purpose of the operation was very specific, very limited and designed to be as unprovocative as possible.
It was designed, he added, to limit the risk of retaliation, designed to send a very specific message that the international community does not consider that using chemical weapons is acceptable ‘and that we will do something about it if we see that they are being used’.
‘In order to do that you need to conduct an operation like that in a very carefully planned sort of way, to minimise your risks, the risks of retaliation. From our point of view the easiest way for us to achieve that end was to use aircraft taking off from the bases. But we absolutely recognize, and the PM said it to the President, the Defence Minister spoke, I spoke to people, there has been a lot of contact, we absolutely recognize that the use of the bases indirectly also causes concern to Cyprus, so we have said that we want to make sure that as far as we can, any risk of retaliation that might cause problems for Cyprus as well as for the bases, we will do our best to make sure that that does not happen’ he told CNA.
Kidd went on to say that ‘we recognize that using the bases in the way that we did created a possibility which we need to take very seriously, of needing to protect this whole island if you like, or at least the parts of it, the bases and around the bases, and we do that, and we have told the government that we do that.”
British Prime Minister Teresa May briefed President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades on the operation in Syria within a few hours afterwards.
Asked if she should have informed him before the operation, he said ‘in an ideal world, of course. But the very nature of operations like this, it means that you take your decisions, very shortly before implementing them and for operational, security reasons, you need to carry them out as quickly and as safely as you do and then you catch up with yourself as soon as you can afterwards.”
Replying to questions, he said that the SBA are important for the UK ‘because we have learned by experience that threats to our security do not just arise at Calais, they arise far further away’.
He referred to Afghanistan, saying that ‘when you are running an operation like the one in Afghanistan, to have the means to support and make more effective your campaign by using Akrotiri made a huge difference’.
‘I don’t think that in that context, there was any particular sense here in Cyprus that what we were doing using Akrotiri to support the Afghan campaign was putting Cyprus in any kind of risk. So I think the assumption that, using Akrotiri, put Cyprus at risk, is actually a false one’ he went on to say.
Kidd also pointed out that ‘the fact that there is no evidence of tourist cancellations or anything of that kind since last weekend seems to support the view that people do not automatically assume that such use of the Bases means increased risk’.
The High Commissioner said that Cyprus is one of the two or three EU countries whose economy will be most directly affected by Brexit ‘not necessarily badly affected but directly affected because of things like the tourism flow and links in the financial services sector and the people to people links and so on.”
Pointing out that according to the Cyprus Foreign Ministry the UK and Cyprus have voted on the same side in over 90% of the business of the EU over 15 years, he said that ‘we think of Cyprus as being a very like minded EU member state across the whole range of the EU intern business’.
‘So both for the direct bilateral reasons and because Cyprus we think will be an EU member state arguing for the kind of EU that we want to have as our nearest neighbour and our biggest trading partner after Brexit, all those things will make the economic, commercial, financial relationship between the two countries just as important even though on a different basis in the future as it is now’ he added.
Bilateral relations and economic crisis
Mathew Kidd told CNA that it took Britain and Cyprus a very long time after Cyprus’ independence to work on how to have a bilateral relationship, since their relations, for a long time, were dominated by some sensitive and difficult issues in which they did not agree, noting though that things have changed especially during their relations within the EU.
He recalled one moment which was a big step forward for the two states, namely the time of the economic crisis in Cyprus in 2013.
He said that through the High Commission, the UK was able to provide immediate practical, expert help in dealing with that crisis, at a time when a brand new government was confronted by an existential crisis in a field which it had not have time to develop an expertise in.
‘So I think that was an example where we were able to show that Britain was sensitive to its friend’s needs, and was ready to find immediately effective ways, not just to say we support you, but actually to do something’, he said, adding that ‘that is a classic example of how I hope that I have helped my side of the relationship of the two countries to become broader and more trusting and more ambitious and thereby also more stable.”
Asked if leaving Cyprus is bittersweet, he replied ‘of course it is’ saying that he spent a quarter of his career on the island.
‘When you can see a bright future for Cyprus but also challenges and difficulties on the way to seizing it, of course it is difficult to leave in the middle of all that,” he concluded.
Britain, a former colonial power, has retained two military bases and other sites on the island of Cyprus when the Republic of Cyprus was established in 1960. Britain, along with Greece and Turkey, is one of three guarantor powers of the Republic’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.