Callaghan Refused to Reveal Contents of Talks with Ecevit

A limited number of files on Cyprus dating from 1976 have been included in the latest release from the British Foreign Office archives.

The files include a letter by the then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan (dated 28 January 1976) to the head of the Parliament’s Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Cyprus. The Committee had just been reappointed following its previous examination (from August to November 1975) of the events that led to the 1974 Turkish invasion.

Callaghan expresses his disagreement with the “ambitious programme of work” of the Select Committee and especially the aim of the committee to quiz him “about events during the Cyprus crisis of 1974 including ‘what Mr Ecevit had said to the Secretary of State about giving the Turks a free run’.”

He says in his letter that he thought that “there was a general feeling that if Ministers were to give evidence to such Select Committees they should not normally go further than they would be prepared to do in addressing the House as a whole.

Callaghan’s opinion was that the widened terms of reference of the Select Committee “would make even more difficult if not impossible the chances of getting some progress on the complicated Cyprus problem.”

He makes it quite clear that he “would resist any attempt to call for papers about diplomatic business on Cyprus including our negotiations with the previous Turkish Government” and that he would not be prepared to give evidence on what passed between Ecevit and himself during the period when the former was Prime Minister of Turkey, that is during the invasion in Cyprus.

Callaghan also wrote a similar letter of protest to Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Previously published files record that Callaghan had commented that although the UK Government had a legal right to intervene, such an intervention would have no political or practical merit, since the UK could not “restore” the 1960 constitution of Cyprus, which, he said, had not functioned since the early 1960s.

Another file shows that James Callaghan had a discussion with his Turkish counterpart Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil at the Foreign Office on 22 March 1976.

Their discussion focused on the USA’s military aid embargo against Turkey. Callaghan had told the Turkish Foreign Minister that “the key lay in Cyprus” and that Turkey would need to convince Denktaş to “make a constructive reply” to written proposals that were then expected by Clerides. It could then be demonstrated that there was movement on the Cyprus question and the US Foreign Secretary Kissinger might therefore be able to get the Congress to agree to “greater flexibility” over aid to Turkey.

At Callaghan’s comment that he could not really put pressure on the Greeks because he was “not very popular” after the evidence he had given to the Commons Select Committee on Cyprus, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that Ankara had told Denktaş that “he did not need Turkish permission to say ‘Yes’… but only to say ‘No’.” He concluded by saying that Denktaş would put forward a substantial reply to the proposals of Mr Clerides, whom the Turkish government “were ready to help stay” in his position.

James Callaghan said that he would do what he could to help with the Cypriots and Dr Kissinger, but he did not have any influence on the US Congress.


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