Britain is not picking sides in the decades-long dispute in Cyprus, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Wednesday, brushing aside a suggestion from the divided island's president that he was too biased to be a fair arbiter. President Tassos Papadopoulos, who heads the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, has refused to meet Straw in protest at the foreign secretary's plan to see the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, on Wednesday afternoon. Papadopoulos accused Britain, which strongly backs Turkey's hope of joining the European Union, of offending Greek Cypriots by agreeing to the visit at Talat's office in the Turkish-occupied north of Nicosia. "I come here with friendship for both communities, not just one," Straw said after a morning meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iakovou.
About 100 protesters shouted angrily at Straw as he entered the Cypriot foreign ministry for the talks. Many held placards with the words "Shame on you Jack" above a picture of Straw wearing a Turkish-style fez, or hat. He said he had been greeted warmly by officials inside despite Iakovou's angry comments Tuesday about a statement in which U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed support for Straw's trip to the region.
Cyprus has been divided between a Greek Cypriot south, home to the island's internationally recognized government, and a Turkish-occupied north since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of an abortive Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece. The self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey. The Cyprus dispute must be resolved before Turkey can join the EU, as it hopes to do. Straw, whose visit is aimed at gauging support on both sides for refocusing on a stalled Annan settlement proposal, said he believed the two sides would eventually come to an agreement. Turkish Cypriots approved the U.N. peace plan but Greek Cypriots rejected it in separate referendums in 2004, only days before Cyprus joined the EU. "It's no different from those (disputes) you find in the Balkans, in the Middle East, many other parts of the world, where because of historical animosities, bloodshed, which go very deep, you scratch the surface and you find people are very bitter," Straw said.
"However deep these enmities, animosities, hatreds are, there comes a point when people see that their future lies more together than ... apart and that's the only future for this island of Cyprus as well," he said. Straw has defended his scheduled visit with Talat, saying officials from many other nations had also met with the Turkish Cypriot leader.
Papadopoulos said as Straw arrived in Cyprus Tuesday that those who want to help bring the Greek and Turkish Cypriots together "should first be objective and be trusted by both sides that they will be good envoys, promoting the common good and interests of both sides, not their own or other interests related to the EU", reports the AP. N.U.