Friday, 17 April 2009

When Mehmet met Hillary…

Just a note on the meeting that took place Wednesday night between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish occupation regime in northern Cyprus. The Cypriot government was satisfied with the State Department's reassurances that Talat was being received by the Americans as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community and not in any other capacity – such as 'president' of the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' – and by the Americans' insistence that they continue to recognise only one government on the island, i.e. the government of the Republic of Cyprus, and that the US supports the reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

In the meeting, it is reported that Talat repeated his usual mantra about lifting the 'isolation' of the Turkish Cypriots and asked the Americans to appoint a special representative to Cyprus to assist with the talks currently taking place between Christofias and Talat. Clinton was said to be lukewarm to the 'special representative' idea, as is the Greek Cypriot side, which would prefer the Americans to keep their distance given the US role in concocting the Annan plan.

While the State Department may have been scrupulous in its nomenclature, other sections of the Washington foreign policy establishment were less so. For example, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington foreign policy think-tank – whose report on Turkey and Cyprus I posted about last week – chose to introduce Talat, who was invited there to address a round-table discussion on Cyprus, as 'president' of the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus'.

Talat also found time in Washington to meet with Jewish lobby organisations in a bid to encourage continuing Jewish and Israeli investment in occupied Cyprus. (See my post here on Israeli investment in occupied Cyprus).

The feeling is that Clinton was keen to meet Talat at this point in a bid to boost Talat's Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which is fighting 'parliamentary elections' in occupied Cyprus this Sunday. The CTP currently forms the 'government' in the occupied areas and is expected to lose heavily to the ultra-nationalist National Unity Party (UBP), which is against reunifying the island and prefers instead closer integration of occupied Cyprus with Turkey. A victory for the UBP would complicate matters for Talat and the Turkish government, which doesn't want the Turkish side to appear to be torpedoing the Christofias-Talat talks and thus jeopardising Turkey's EU accession process.

Another point of interest is that it has emerged that of the 161,000 people voting in the illegal 'elections' this Sunday, only 61,000 are Turkish Cypriots, while the rest are settlers from Turkey. Since it is a long-standing Cypriot demand that, in any settlement, a large proportion of Turkish settlers would be asked to pack up their yurts and clear off back to Anatolia, it should come as no surprise that the interlopers are much more inclined to support the Turkish nationalist UBP.