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The UK must work with President Biden to end the silent conflict in Cyprus

The UK must work with President Biden to end the silent conflict in Cyprus

A North Cyprus' military outpost on the seafront of Varosha | PA Images

3 min read

The time is ripe for the UK government to help find a lasting settlement on the island of Cyprus

Now President Biden has taken office, there is a prevailing sense that the US will once again look to re-engage with the world, after the erratic and damaging nature of the Trump Administration’s “America First” dogma.

Undoubtedly, this approach will benefit US allies – Britain included – but the prospect of a new era has promise for one of the most entrenched and enduring conflicts of the modern era: the division of Cyprus.

Attempts to reach a sustainable outcome based on a bi-communal Federation have failed each time they have been attempted since the initial division in 1974, and Turkey has signalled its continued opposition to these attempts as recently as October with its suggestion of a permanent division.

Joe Biden’s presidency could change this.

As Vice-President, Biden travelled to Cyprus and he notably introduced himself as “Joe Bidenopoulos” to Greek Cypriot Americans. In recent months, both Biden and his candidate for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have rightly criticised Turkish actions that hinder attempts at a peace settlement and risk destabilising the region. There is the real prospect the new administration will put this longstanding division and the broader Eastern Mediterranean at the heart of its foreign policy agenda. 

But they should not do this alone. As penholder for Cyprus at the UN, it’s vital that the British government is at the forefront of seizing the chance to work towards an agreement which will unify Cyprus. 

In February, Britain will take up the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council and with it will have greater international influence. With Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, a large diaspora community in the UK, and with deep historic links to the island, this should be a key opportunity to engage the new Biden Administration and hopefully herald new attempts to reach an agreement. 

British Cypriots play a significant role in our communities across the country and it’s imperative that the British government upholds its historic commitment to the people of Cyprus and to the protection of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus.

Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, the Labour Party has been steadfast in its commitment to Cyprus and has continued to press the British government over the need to secure a political agreement. Labour has been at the forefront in demanding more diplomatic pressure to reach a settlement. There is no better time than now to solve one of the world’s longest remaining frozen conflicts. 

We are clear that the Republic of Cyprus and self-declared ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ must work within the UN framework to come to a bi-zonal, bi-communal political settlement.

In the same vein, Turkey needs to comply with all UN resolutions including ending its resettlement project in the former resort of Varosha and refrain from further provocations and escalatory actions in Cyprus. The Turkish government must also end its military presence on the Island of Cyprus and bring drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone to an immediate halt.

Our message to the British government is simple; take this chance, take the Biden Administration at their word, and lead the way to a lasting political settlement.

 

Fabian Hamilton MP is shadow peace and disarmament minister and Catherine West MP is shadow minister for Europe and the Americas