BIDEN ‘NO STRANGER TO CYPRUS’
Taken from this weeks issue
By GÜLDEREN ÖZTANSU
US PRESIDENT-elect Joe Biden is “no stranger to Cyprus”, an academic told Cyprus Today this week, as he and others evaluated what his election success could mean for the island.
Speaking to Cyprus Today Ahmet Sözen, a political science and international relations professor at the TRNC’s Eastern Mediterranean University, said that Mr Biden met both of the island’s leaders when he visited Cyprus as US Vice President in 2014.
He said that Mr Biden’s victory is important for Cypriots given that he has an “exciting record” of involvement in Cyprus.
Whether or not the US can lead Cyprus towards a solution will depend on its relations with Turkey, which are currently strained over Syria, Turkey’s deci- sion to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system and other issues, according to Prof Sözen.
“Unlike Republican Trump, Biden will emphasise and look for democracy and respect for the rules in allies, as well as rebuilding a relationship with the natural allies of the US across the other side of the Atlantic,” he said.
“Thus, while EU preferences will be taken into consideration when it comes to the Eastern Mediterranean, a new fracture can be observed among Turkey and the US.”
National Unity Party MP Oğuzhan Hasipoğlu, who was pre- sent at the 2014 meeting held between Biden and the then Turkish Cypriot president Derviş Eroğlu in the North Cyprus presidential palace, says he is unsure that the new US President will have a dramatic impact on any peace process.
While he acknowledged that Biden has in the past urged both sides to reach a conclusion and encouraged them to engage in confidence-building projects, he finds it hard see how differences between the two sides will be overcome.
“Since , a two-state solu- tion understanding has come on to the scene – this makes for an entirely different negotiation table,” he told this paper.
The idea that Cyprus will likely remain unaffected by Biden’s victory, despite his record of wanting to unite the island, is a view held by another MP, the Republican Turkish Party’s Fikri Toros.
“Biden, as a Democrat, will want to establish peace domestically and internationally and he has an interest in securing a peaceful Eastern Mediterranean,” Mr Toros said.
However the project for “securing peace in the Eastern Mediterranean is impossible” as “South Cyprus is not inclusive of the Turkish Cypriots” Mr Toros stressed.
Fiona Mullen, director of South Nicosia-based Sapienta Economics, said: “The US hasn’t been entirely absent from this region in the past four years but I would describe most of what [US] Secretary of State Pompeo had done as fire- fighting rather than coalition- building.
“I think that, with a Biden presidency, we are more likely to see attempts to get all countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region pulling in the same direction.
“We already saw elements of that when he was Vice President. So I think a Biden presidency means we are more likely to have another attempt at a comprehen- sive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
“I also hope that this means we can find a way of bringing all countries in the region to work together on energy issues. I don’t think you can find a resolution of the Cyprus problem – however that is achieved – without it.”
In the past Mr Biden has called for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. In 2008, during an interview with the Athens-based Greek newspaper Kathimerini, he said that Wash- ington’s relations with Ankara “will be influenced by how the Cyprus problem is solved, namely by the full withdrawal of Turkey”.
In 2014 Mr Biden said he viewed “Cyprus” as a “genuine strategic partner” of the US. His predisposition towards a united Cyprus was clear when he told reporters: “President Obama and I believe that Cyprus is a key partner in a challenging region.
“And we know it can be an even stronger partner if the next generation of Cypriots can grow up without the burden of conflict.”
Mr Biden has also commented in the past on the quest for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, which US firms have a stake in, saying that Cyprus holds a huge potential in “transforming the Eastern Mediterranean into a new global hub for natural gas”.