First and foremost, I would like to warmly thank the esteemed German Marshall Fund of the United States for organizing this event.
Warm thanks to the two distinguished ladies I have the honour to share this platform with – Dr. Kareen Donfried, President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and our moderator, Ms. Susan Glasser, POLITICO’s Chief International Affairs Columnist.
Warm thanks to you for attending, and for your interest in Cyprus.
I truly look forward to an open, interactive discussion, as we exchange views on pressing, and pertinent subjects:
The challenges we face but also the immense potential our region holds, for example but not limited to the field of energy;
And how Cyprus – an EU member state at the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean, with excellent relations with its Middle East neighbors – can act as a means for regional cooperation in an array of fields.
Given that this is my first visit to the United States following the election of President Trump, I wish to take this opportunity to underline our commitment to deepening and further enhancing our excellent partnership with the United States, which is of a strategic nature. I am certain that my meetings with the Administration on this visit will pave the way for the enhancement of our cooperation.
Cyprus’s Perspective/ Role in the region
Cyprus’ geopolitical value, lies in its bridging role in fostering peace and cooperation in a volatile region.
Cyprus brings a unique perspective to the discussion on the Eastern Mediterranean: the European Union’s south-eastern most corner, at the heart of Mediterranean, a country with long-standing, historical ties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual understanding with all neighboring countries (with one sole exception).
- It is in the background of our unique, geostrategic location – at the crossroads of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia – that we have stirred the ship of our foreign policy in recent years, in an effort to demonstrate our added value in a region that despite its volatility, holds enormous potential that we have a responsibility not to leave untapped.
- My Government has worked since day 1 of assuming office on realigning and re-orienting Cyprus’s foreign policy firmly towards the West. The core parameters of this realignment have been enhancing bilateral and regional cooperation, and exploiting the prospects created by Cyprus’s unique geographical position.
- The examples of Cyprus’s role as a bridge and as a credible partner in the region, with pragmatic and prudent positions, are many –
Cyprus is a responsible, active, reliable partner in the areas of combating terrorism, fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and providing humanitarian assistance;
Cyprus works in a tangible way towards fostering a constructive dialogue, and trust building in the Arab-Israeli relationship (for example in bringing Lebanon and Israel together to resolve differences over the delimitation of their exclusive economic zone and preventing another source of tension in the area);
Cyprus encourages both within the EU but also in our constant interaction with Israel the creation and implementation of a positive agenda in EU-Israeli relations;
We have created a positive agenda for the region itself, through the trilateral cooperation mechanisms we have set with between Cyprus, Greece on the one hand and Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, while we maintain excellent relations with Palestinians.
Cyprus has the potential to also play an even greater role by facilitating the United States both logistically (hosting meetings, even liaising), but also practically (there are negotiation chapters where Cyprus can provide tangible assistance to the sides, as a reliable and trusted intermediary), in terms of the Middle East peace process.
– I believe that we have effectively demonstrated that stability and reliability are at the core of our foreign policy. And we have done so in a concrete manner.
Regional challenges: Cyprus’s perspective & role
- The main challenge today to the stability and the security comes from international terrorism.
- As a front line EU member state, Cyprus plays a decisive role in promoting security and stability, of great significance to the implementation of European regional and security policies.
- The world has been tragically shocked by extremism – in Nice, Brussels, Paris, Manchester, Cairo, London, Kabul, Egypt, even on American soil; ISIS activities are on the rise in North Africa, the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza; the situation in Syria, Yemen and Libya is devastating and is spilling over; Hezbollah’s extensive terrorist network and other Shia militias further add to the destabilization of the region.
- The almost weekly terrorist attacks worldwide offer tragic evidence of an escalated, sophisticated, global terrorist threat. No country is immune and we have no choice but to work harder and closer together to counter this evil.
Role of Cyprus in countering international terrorism
- From the outset, Cyprus has played an active part in international efforts to counter international terrorism.
In particular, Cyprus –
Participates in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, including in the Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters;
Provides means (for example military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, to the King of Jordan’s Aqaba Process to counter Terrorism and to Iraqi Forces) and facilities (for example at ports and airports);
Maintains very close intelligence and information exchange with our partners in the region and in the EU.
- At the national level, we continue to take steps to strengthen our resilience and enhance our preparedness (for example through amendment of relevant legislation, enhanced intelligence, increased patrols and border controls, training).
Cyprus as regional hub in counter-terrorism
- With valuable assistance from countries such as the United States, Cyprus aims to become a regional hub in counter-terrorism efforts, for example in the areas of training and capacity building in the region.
MIGRATION / ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT & SYRIA
- On migration Cyprus has also acted as a responsible actor and as a credible partner, and I have always stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of migration, through cooperation.
ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT: We support the efforts to create a conducive environment on the ground for direct and meaningful negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; we have taken initiatives in the EU to increase EU involvement and understanding of the positions of both sides;
We are of the opinion that absence of a political horizon in the Middle East Peace process creates a dangerous vacuum, which is exploited by extremists to propagate their hateful propaganda. Given the difficulties in returning to the negotiating table, we think a step-by-step approach is the way forward.
We fully support the current efforts of the international community to revive the process. We believe that the active involvement of regional key players such as Jordan, the League of Arab States, Egypt, and other Arab countries is an indispensable element in this effort.
SYRIA: We support the importance of a political, sustainable solution in Syria
We strongly support the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, in line with the UN Charter and international law.
The political transition process should be Syrian-led and establish a democratic, inclusive and representative government by the Syrians, for the Syrians. The political process must ensure that all segments of Syrian society are involved in shaping the country’s future.
Αll components of the Syrian society, especially the Syrian Kurds and their representatives, should be represented in the negotiations in Geneva, in view of their considerable contribution in the fight against Da’esh.
- Cyprus has played an important role in building trilateral cooperation mechanisms in the region; these include the key players in the region –such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon – and Greece.
- The common denominator for the countries that participate in these cooperation mechanisms is the understanding that these arrangements could serve as a model of regional dialogue, contributing to the consolidation of peace, stability and prosperity but also as a tool for achieving greater understanding and cooperation.
- The issues in the agendas vary from energy to security and defense, to maritime cooperation and tourism; they are open for participation to any country of the region that wishes to do so. No one is excluded.
- Of course, a condition for participating and achieving the aforementioned objectives is good neighborly relations, respect of international law as well as mutual respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each other and for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
- I will now focus on the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, which in many ways has catalyzed the formation of the first trilateral cooperation mechanisms.
- Significant reserves have been discovered in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus and other countries in the region – Israel, Egypt, Lebanon.
- The involvement of energy giants, such as Exxon Mobil and Noble Energy of the United States, French TOTAL, the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-Kogas, provide concrete evidence of the great potential.
- We are fully cognisant of the fact that natural gas can become a vehicle for creating a region of unity, peace and stability, forging regional cooperation and synergies and promoting strategic interests.
- The discovery and exploitation of energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean also holds the potential of strengthening the EU’s energy security, a vital interest for both the European Union and the United States.
- Natural gas pipelines can facilitate regional energy security and connect Cyprus, and other countries of the region with other neighboring areas such as continental Europe, North Africa.
- The meetings of the Energy Ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Italy this April in Tel Aviv, where they gave political backing to the EastMed project, in the presence of the EU Commissioner for Energy, reconfirm that the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean can, and should become a catalyst for alliances at a regional level; it also shows the way for how the EU can be part of these developments.
- While discussing the importance of achieving peace in our immediate neighborhood, I wish to stress the significance of the long-lasting Cyprus problem, and the positive ramifications it would have beyond Cyprus, by sending a powerful message of peace & co-existence irrespective of religious or ethnic background.
- First and foremost, a viable and lasting settlement, that safeguards Cyprus’s independence, would be in the best interests of the people of Cyprus, and their genuine desire to live in a safe and prosperous country, with no occupation forces and any third country being a guarantor power.
- A re-united Cyprus, with an independent foreign policy, will also prove of great value regional stability, to the development of the EU–Turkey relations, including its security dimension, as well as Greco-Turkish relations.
No one is served if Cyprus ceases to act as an independent, reliable actor and become a proxy of an unpredictable Turkey.
In a post-settlement arrangement US and wider western interests would be damaged if Cyprus became a third-country’s proxy and acted as an extension of its foreign policy. This would also damage efforts for a greater regional cooperation among the states in the East Med.
- I wish to stress the importance of a settlement that will on the one hand ensure the viability of the state, the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens, and on the other hand, that will allow Cyprus to remain the credible, stable regional partner of the West in the region.
- We are at a stage in the negotiations, where Turkey’s contribution in concrete terms is indispensable, particularly in the discussion of two crucial chapters – security and guarantees.
- We hope that Turkey, a country which aspires to be recognized as a regional leader, will rise to the occasion and will meet its obligations not only in terms of international law but also vis-à-vis the EU./IBNA