US Vice President Joe Biden has said he is “mildly optimistic” that there is a good chance for a bi-zonal bi-communal federal solution to the 40 year-old Cyprus problem, ‘Famagusta Gazette’ reports.
Biden was addressing 1,500 Greek Americans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 42nd Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Archbishop Demetrios of America expressed satisfaction over Biden’s positions, which also touched US – Greece relations and support for the religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and the re-opening of the Halki Seminary.
The President of the American Hellenic Institute, Nick Larigakis, who attended the event and was also present at two closed briefings with Vice President Biden and Greek American leaders, before and after his Cyprus visit, confirmed that Biden had expressed similar positions to them.
However, Larigakis appeared cautious as to whether these positions are official White House foreign policy or Biden’s views that he is still trying to place at the top of the President’s agenda.
“The fact that he said these things on the record and on camera, in front of 1,500 people is extremely important and undeniable. We have never heard them before. But I don’t think they are yet on the President’s top agenda,” he said.
The White House hasn’t yet made public the official transcript of Biden’s remarks and according to Archbishop Demetrios, who was sitting next to the Vice President at the Clergy Laity dinner, many of his remarks were not included in the official text.
In his address, Biden said one of the great disappointments of his long career was that after 40 years there are still Turkish troops in Cyprus and he laid three reasons for his optimism for a just settlement.
First, he noted that under the leadership of president Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus has become a genuine strategic partner of the US on every aspect, from trade and investments to cooperation on counter terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Second, he added, the discovery of hydrocarbons off Cyprus and Israel, and potentially off Greece and Lebanon offer Cyprus the chance to play a leading role in the area and enhance Europe’s energy security.
These discoveries could be a game changer in the region, “but this can only be done if countries come together and find a way to work together,” he said.
Finally, having spoken regularly with Prime Minister Erdogan after the latest development in Iraq, there is great awareness, on the part of the Turkish Government.
“The matter of the fact is that the Government of Turkey, in my view, is coming to understand, not for any noble reasons, but for practical reasons, that the status quo on the island does not benefit them economically, militarily and politically. And there is significant potential benefit for Turkey in a bizonal, bicommunal federation,” Biden remarked.
Biden stressed that the status quo is not working for Turkey, neither for Turkish Cypriots, not even for the region.
“I think that’s the place we’ve reached. There is obviously a great deal of work to be done. And I am not naive, I’ve been doing this for a long time, but having listening carefully to the Turkish Cypriot leaders, I sense that there are voices from that community that they have finally concluded that ‘enough is enough. The benefit flowing from the original invasion is of no consequence of us anymore.’ Turkey must play a more constructive part. And I think it is in their interest, with all that’s been going on now, because there is a threat to their security from the Russians and the sea on their north, to the collapse of Syria in their south and ISIL in the east.”
The Vice President said he has raised the matter during his conversations with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and they had agreed “that I will visit Istanbul to discuss this and try to begin to bring it to an end, because, ultimately, Turkey is the key to this operation.”
Biden also spoke of his visit to Cyprus in May, reiterating that from the moment he stepped off the plane he made it “unmistakably clear that the United States has, continues to, and will continue to recognize only one legitimate Government on the island: the Cypriot Government”.
Now, he added, “there are some – I suspect even in this country- who thought there is no way to begin a negotiation”. But the truth of the matter is, he pointed out, “that there is only one way to begin a negotiation: there is nothing negotiable about two elements: One, no Turkish soldiers should have set foot on the island without being invited by the Government and, two, there is only one Government, only one Government, on the island”.
This, Biden said, “is my personal position, it is the position of the United States of America, it is the position of my President and, quite frankly, the position of all the countries around the world, save one”. He added that in all his public and private statements in Cyprus he reinforced that message. “There is nothing negotiable when it comes to that issue”, he pointed out
He also spoke of President Anastasiades on a personal note, saying how much he enjoyed his welcome dinner.
“We sat on that veranda for almost three and a half hours and just talked like long lost friends. What it reinforced in me, was what I already knew – it is the reason of the connection I have with the Greek community. It is all value based”, he said, adding that “this President is a good man, he is a decent man”.