US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit was everything the Cyprus government could have hoped for. From the moment of his arrival on the island on Wednesday evening, until his departure last night Biden made all the right noises that could not but have satisfied the Greek Cypriot side, although the usual naysayers managed to find at least one thing to quibble with.
After weeks of worrying by our politicians that Biden’s visit to the north would be upgrading the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, the US Vice President put the record straight when he landed, and he could not have made it any clearer.
“The United States… recognises only one legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus and my visit and meetings throughout the island will not change that. It is my personal position, it’s the position of the United States of America and it’s the position of the entire world, save one country.”
Similarly when he visited Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, the ‘TRNC’ flag was not flying over the meeting venue. That is not to say that Biden was not firm about the need for a Cyprus solution, which he said was “long past time”.
He was correct when he said: “Peace is always possible but it requires engagement, not just from leaders but from citizens”. In other words it will require goodwill, something that countless envoys and foreign politicians have been saying for 40 years and it is unlikely Biden’s words will hold much sway when it comes to negotiating on the ground.
But the US Vice President did not come here just to throw out a few platitudes about recognition, non recognition, peace, goodwill, confidence building and gamechangers in Cyprus. His visit was about much more than that.
Aside from Washington’s concerns over the situation in Ukraine and its aim of mustering more EU support for sanctions on Russia, the fact that Biden brought along US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy spoke volumes about the real main agenda.
One of the first things Biden referred to on his arrival was Cyprus’ growing leadership in the eastern Mediterranean, and its role in regional energy security.
Cyprus has for years been calling on the US to pressure Turkey into a solution. For the most part we have been ignored, perhaps due to the calibre of past Cypriot presidents. But Washington obviously sees in Nicos Anastasiades someone they can deal with. Otherwise Biden would not have come.
It has taken over 50 years for a US official of Biden’s level to come to Cyprus and the visit is a clear message that for whatever reason, Cyprus has become important to the US. Now that it is perhaps that pressure on Turkey will be forthcoming.
It appears Washington no longer sees us as a tiny island with an irritating political problem. The resolution of the Cyprus issue is now intertwined with US energy policies in the eastern Mediterranean. That is the real game-changer.