British National Archives:Callaghan “not prepared” to give evidence on talks with Turkey before Turkey’s 1974 invasion

A limited number of files on Cyprus dating from 1976 are included in the latest release of Foreign Office archives in London.

The files include a letter by the then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan (dated 28 January 1976) to the head of the Parliament’s Select Committee on Foreign Affairs with regard to the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Cyprus. The Committee had just been reappointed following its previous examination (from August to November 1975) of the events that led to the 1974 Turkish invasion.

James Callaghan expresses his disagreement with the ambitious programme of work of the Select Committee and especially the intention of its members to examine him about events during the Cyprus crisis of 1974 including ‘what Mr Ecevit had said to the Secretary of State about giving the Turks a free run’.

As he mentions in his letter, he thought that there was a general feeling that if Ministers were to give evidence to such Select Committees they should not normally go further than they would be prepared to do in addressing the House as a whole.

In his view, the widened terms of reference of the Select Committee would make even more difficult if not impossible the chances of getting some progress on the complicated Cyprus problem.

Therefore, he makes clear in no uncertain terms that he would resist any attempt to call for papers about diplomatic business on Cyprus including our negotiations with the previous Turkish Government and that he would not be prepared to give evidence on what passed between Ecevit and himself during the period when the former was Prime Minister of Turkey, that is during the invasion in Cyprus.

James Callaghan penned a similar protest letter to his Prime Minister.

Previously reported files from the UK National Archives have revealed that in the end James Callaghan did testify in front of the Select Committee on Cyprus, just three weeks after his letter, and although the Committee’s report did not include such details he had referred to the UK stance during the Turkish invasion.

Callaghan had commented that although the UK Government had a legal right to intervene, such an intervention would have no political of practical merit, since the UK could not restore the 1960 constitution of Cyprus, which, he said, was not functioning since the early 1960s.

A separate file records the discussion that James Callaghan had at the Foreign Office with his Turkish counterpart Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil on 22 March 1976.

The discussion had focused on the military aid embargo by the USA against Turkey. Callaghan had told the Turkish Foreign Minister that the key lay in Cyprus and that Turkey would need to convince Denktash to make a constructive reply to written proposals that were then expected by Clerides. It could then be demonstrated that there was movement on the Cyprus question and the US Foreign Secretary Kissinger might therefore be able to get the Congress to agree to greater flexibility over aid to Turkey.

At Callaghan’s comment that he could not really put pressure on the Greeks because he was not very popular after the evidence he had given to the Commons Select Committee on Cyprus, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that Ankara had told Denktash that he did not need Turkish permission to say ‘Yes’ but only to say ‘No’. He concluded by saying that Denktash would put forward a substantial reply to the proposals of Mr Clerides, whom the Turkish government were ready to help stay in his position.

James Callaghan said that he would do what he could to help with the Cypriots and Dr Kissinger, but he did not have any influence on the US Congress.

Source: Cyprus News Agency