Ersin Tatar, the President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), met with Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, at the TRNC White House on Thursday afternoon.
The warm atmosphere of the meeting, which ran for over an hour, was reflected in the two men taking a stroll and then enjoying tea in the TRNC Presidency garden.
The British Foreign Secretary had travelled to Cyprus to learn more about the latest positions of the two sides ahead of the upcoming UN-led meeting, where Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, and the three Guarantor Powers, Turkey, Greece and the UK, will explore whether common ground exists for a new round of negotiations.
On his first official visit to the island, Mr Raab travelled to South Cyprus in the morning, where he met with the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades followed by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
At a press conference with Mr Christodoulides, the British Foreign Secretary said the UK is “a problem solving nation by instinct… a Guarantor Power…a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” adding that Britain is also “a long standing friend of the Cypriot people across the island.”
“Very sincere and constructive atmosphere” for Tatar-Raab meeting
After lunch with Elizabeth Spehar, the head of UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus), Mr Raab headed to the TRNC White House in Lefkoşa / North Nicosia to meet President Tatar.
Accompanied by British High Commissioner Stephen Lillie, Mr Raab emerged from a grey Jaguar where he was greeted by the Undersecretary of the TRNC President Okan Donangil.
The British Foreign Secretary went in to the building through the front entrance of the building, with the TRNC and Turkey flags flying on either side.
Despite reservations that the UK would insist on federation talks continuing, it appeared the UK Foreign Secretary had got the memo from North Cyprus ahead of his visit that President Tatar intends to stick firmly to the two-state mandate he had been elected on to resolve the decades-old Cyprus Problem.
During the meeting, President Tatar impressed upon Mr Raab that, “after more than 50 years of trying and failing, it is not possible to reach an agreement on the basis of a federation.”
The president stated that, “insisting on a failed process will only serve to continue the status quo on the island.”
Mr Raab is believed to have probed how open the Turkish Cypriot side was to compromise, urging President Tatar to remain “flexible” in his approach, a point the Foreign Secretary reiterated on social media.
The UK continues to engage ahead of proposed informal talks on #Cyprus Settlement led by @antonioguterres. Today I met with Turkish Cypriot leader @Ersinrtatar to urge flexibility ahead of the talks for the benefit of both Cypriot communities. pic.twitter.com/LMYVs5he5e
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) February 4, 2021
Alongside the 5+1 UN summit in March, the discussions also covered bi-lateral relations, including direct trade and ending the UK policy of disembarkation, where passengers travelling from Ercan Airport to Britain via Turkey must not only touch-down, but also disembark from the plane.
The transit rule, first introduced in 2017 over ‘security concerns at Ercan’, have hugely inconvenienced the elderly, and those with mobility problems and young families.
Concerns were also raised about Turkish Cypriot property rights on the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) in Cyprus. Between Evkaf (Cyprus Islamic Trust) and individual landowners, much of Dhekelia and Akrotiri is Turkish Cypriot owned.
Last year, Britain was accused of “deliberately undermining” Turkish Cypriot legal and political rights by excluding the Turkish Cypriot authorities and landowners from the UK’s “unlawful plans” for non-military development on the bases. Despite lacking Turkish Cypriot consent and representation, the UK opted to implement a 2014 agreement signed with Greek Cypriots, who are responsible for Land Registry and planning decisions on the Bases. Turkish Cypriot landowners have complained of not being able to access information and unfair obstacles.
Mr Raab has promised to investigate the concerns, while assuring the TRNC President that Turkish Cypriot property rights on the Bases would be protected.
President Tatar also enquired about purchasing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for North Cyprus to supplement the vaccines being provided by Turkey and the European Union.
The President and the Foreign Secretary, both Cambridge University graduates, concluded their meeting with a walk around the grounds of the TRNC Presidency, before having tea in the garden just as the sun came out.
The atmosphere in the meeting was described as “very sincere and constructive”, and at a press conference afterwards President Tatar thanked the British Foreign Secretary for coming to North Cyprus “to listen to the Turkish Cypriot side convey its views and reservations.”
Main image, top, of TRNC President Ersin Tatar & British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab talking and drinking tea in the grounds of the TRNC White House, 4 Feb. 2021. Photo © TRNC Presidency pool photo