Lying about Cyprus and selling British sovereignty
By Dr William Mallinson
THE DISCREDITED Annan plan’s chief PR guru, Mr Hannay, admits at the end of his personal anti-analytical book that “we [the British] had not covered ourselves with glory”, perhaps as an insurance policy against accusations of bias. Nevertheless, in his nine-page potted “history” section, he omits such vital facts as the Foreign Office’s successful efforts to divide Greece and Turkey in 1955; secret collusion with Turkey; the British role in the 1963 riots that segregated the Cypriot community; British and American agreement not to prevent a Turkish invasion in 1963/64; and the Foreign Office’s admission that the Treaty of Guarantee was contrary to the UN Charter. New documents have now been uncovered which will surely embarrass those who aim to keep Cyprus as a geostrategic hostage and out of mainstream EU security structures. The documents show that what has in the past been dismissed as irresponsible can now be considered as responsible fact.
First is the vehemently denied British government’s foreknowledge of the Turkish invasion of 1974. As an entrée, let us recall what British Foreign Minister Callaghan said to Kissinger on August 14, 1974, after the Turkish army had “broken out”: “Well, I was just thinking – I think in military terms, obviously the Turks will carry on until they have got this line that they have figured out on the map, and cynically, let’s hope they get it quickly… You are not going to act, we are not going to act unilaterally and the UN is going to get out of the way.”
On its own, this quote displays a combination of cynicism and subservience to the US, but not definite foreknowledge. However, further evidence shows that Callaghan did have foreknowledge about Turkish plans before both the first invasion and the later “break out”: on July 19, 1974, a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Callaghan’s Private Secretary that the Joint Intelligence Committee was expecting a Turkish invasion within the next few days. It occurred the next day. Interestingly, the French Embassy had unsuccessfully tried to obtain information about Cyprus from the FCO, and the French Foreign Minister, Sauvagnargues, even complained to Callaghan. While the Turks were breaking the ceasefire of July 22, during the frenetic Anglo-Greek-Turkish “negotiations” in Geneva, Callaghan received a top secret letter on August 10 from the British Defence Staff, stating: “The Turkish army is looking for an excuse to continue operations. The next likely objective is to increase the size of their area to take in the entire North East of Cyprus, bounded by a line from five miles east of Morphou, through the southern suburbs of Nicosia and along the old Famagusta road to Famagusta.” The same day, the British ambassador to the UN in Geneva wrote in a top secret telegram: “The Foreign Secretary [Callaghan] is most concerned at hard line attitude being adopted by Turkish delegation at Geneva and the strong indications that they may soon attempt a major break-out from the area at present under their control.”
The false denial
How does the fact that Callaghan knew about the Turkish plans, and was even worried about them, compare with what he told a Parliamentary Select Committee on Cyprus in early 1976? To the question “You recognised, did you not, that there was to be an immediate invasion by the Turks at that time and that that was imminent?” Callaghan replied: “No”! And when asked whether there was a real danger of a further advance, he replied: “No, I do not think that was indicated at all.” Callaghan was aided and abetted at the interrogation by three senior FCO officials, acting as minders.
The British territories on Cyprus
Another fascinating revelation, only hinted at until now, was that Britain wished to give up its territories on Cyprus (the “Sovereign Base Areas”) and the retained sites dotted throughout the island. As early as 1964, a secret FO paper stated that the bases and retained sites depended in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation, and that a “Guantanamo position” was out of the question. The paper added: “Our sovereign rights in the SBAs and treaty rights in Republic territory will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion”. In 1970, the FCO was admitting that the bases were hostages to Cypriot good will, while in 1974 it was stating that the bases were an embarrassment. More significantly, in 1975, a secret paper stated that a solution would be difficult as long as Britain retained a physical presence in the bases, and that British strategic interests in Cyprus were now minimal. Extraordinarily, the paper admitted: “A
Although our own preferred policy is for a complete British military withdrawal from Cyprus, we recognise that we cannot do so at present, given the global importance of working with the Americans.” In this connexion, a senior US official even assured the British that the US would be able to finance the bases, secretly if necessary.
What of the British government’s geostrategic view of Greece and Turkey? A secret paper explains: “Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with the West.” This revealing phrase also suggests that Britain does not consider NATO members Greece and Turkey “to be part of the West”!
When it comes to the “strategic interests” of the US, Britain, Russia, Israel, Greece and Turkey, Cyprus is certainly a contentious topic. Putative EU interests are usually blocked by British or surrogate British disagreement whenever Greek-inspired EU initiatives on Cyprus are taken. The other major connected problem is the Aegean continental shelf around Greek islands and airspace. For the record, the State Department has written to this author stating that the US does not recognise Greece’s ten-mile air limit. As regards the continental shelf and Greek islands, however, an FCO official reported in 1975 that “…reference [of the issue] to the International Court is still seen as something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is not surprising, as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning their case at the Court on its merits alone.”
The above is but a small tip of a rather grimy iceberg of documents recently released. They enable us to evaluate the whole affair with a fair degree of confidence. As regards problems with the truth, Callaghan is in illustrious company: the German Defence Minister Franz Joseph Strauß (the Spiegel Affair), the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu (the bombing of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior), Margaret Thatcher (the sinking of the General Belgrano), and Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair (the attack on, and occupation of, Iraq). Callaghan’s name simply makes the list a little longer. Callaghan was nevertheless more diplomatic in public about the Turks than the likes of Pangalos. He told Kissinger on the telephone, however, that the Turks were too jingoistic and close to Hitler for his liking!
Guicciardini wrote that the past illuminates the future, that things have always been the same and that things return with different colours. Then is now: the whole abortive Annan plan should be seen in the context of the above revelations, indeed as a continuation of them. Britain is the US’ butler vis-à-vis its anachronistic territories on Cyprus and therefore puts offensive Turkish desires above defensive Greek ones. Since the political demise of the last of the Brito-European Mohicans, Edward Heath, in 1974, Britain has preferred to sell its sovereignty to the US rather than share it with the EU. Cyprus is a gauge.
n Dr William Mallinson, a former British diplomat, teaches British history, culture and literature at the Ionian University, Corfu and is the author of Cyprus, A Modern History, I. B. Tauris, London and New York 2005, and Papazissis (in Greek) Athens, 2005