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Kasoulides: Cyprus a bridge between the EU and Middle East
2002-07-16 21:48:44

By Nikos Markides-- Jerusalem, Jul 16 (CNA) -- Cyprus has the potential of becoming an economic, political and cultural bridge between the European Union (EU) and the countries of the Middle East and north Africa, Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has said.

Speaking during a dinner offered here last night by the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs, in the presence of Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irinaios, the Foreign Minister talked about Cyprus' strong feelings "that it has an obligation to contribute not only to the efforts to halt the escalating spiral of violence in its immediate vicinity, but also to play its role in the efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace that would make the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East an area of peace and stability."

Introducing the Minister, Council member Bein Yohanan make a short reference to the history of Cyprus and its accession course to the EU.

"Cyprus is trying to become part of the EU and at the same time it is part of the Middle East," he noted, adding that a lot of Israelis regularly visit Cyprus as tourists and that the relations between the two states are very good despite all the problems of the region.|

The Cypriot minister said Cyprus' accession to the EU is the natural outcome of a long-lasting relation with the Union, based on age-old cultural, historic and socio-political ties, common values and shared principles.

"We strongly believe," Kasoulides said, "that Cyprus' participation in the EU will also positively contribute to the achievement of the EU's goals and aspirations" and that "the accession of Cyprus will bring the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean and the shores of the Middle East and Israel."

As Kasoulides said, traditionally, Cyprus has maintained excellent and close historic relations with the Arab world and Israel.

"As a result of this balanced approach," he continued, "Cyprus has been able to maintain its credibility with all the countries in the area and beyond, as a country that can be useful in the efforts for peace and reconciliation in the area."

The minister reminded his audience that Cyprus had been able to contribute towards the positive conclusion of the standoff at the Church of Nativity in last May.

"By agreeing to provisionally accept the 13 Palestinians on its territory for unlimited period," he said, "Cyprus assisted in the implementation of an EU initiative, thus helping diffuse an otherwise alarming situation."

Kasoulides said Cyprus had offered itself as "a behind-the scenes facilitator of the efforts for reaching a settlement of the Middle East conflict."

Cyprus has done this before and it is ready to do it again, he said, adding that he will continue his meetings tomorrow with Israelis as well as Palestinians in order to contribute to a peaceful solution of the Middle East problem.

Speaking on the Cyprus problem, Kasoulides briefed his audience on recent developments and the UN-led direct talks under way.

"We strongly believe that our irreversible course towards accession could act as a catalyst for a solution to the Cyprus problem," Kasoulides pointed out.

At the end of his speech, Kasoulides was asked by an Israeli journalist how can the Foreign Minister of Cyprus speak about promoting the good relations between the two countries and offering his good services and at the same time his country's parliament issues a statement condemning Israel's actions against Palestinians describing them as "genocide".

Kasoulides explained that the two powers (executive and legislative) in Cyprus function separately and that the parliament acts as a completely autonomous body promoting its own policy.

As the Foreign Minister said, the Parliament in Cyprus has expressed its readiness to build good and close relations with Knesset and that later today he will deliver a message from the House Foreign Affairs Committee to Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg for the arrangement of a meeting between members of the two bodies to discuss all these issues and eliminate misunderstandings.

The Cypriot minister winds up his official visit to Israel this afternoon. He will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Earlier today he visited the Martyrs and Heroes Memorial of the Holocaust, where he laid a wreath.

He also visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where he had a meeting with Patriarch Irineos.

Kasoulides returns to Cyprus tomorrow morning.

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