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Address delivered by Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis at the AJC Global Forum 2012 - Washignton, DC
2012-05-04 08:30:50

I want to thank AJC for inviting me to join you here in Washington, a city where I served as Ambassador for five years and from which I have very fond memories.

My being here and the opportunity to address you this evening, the chance to share this stage with some of my colleagues and to offer some of our thoughts, is indeed a unique opportunity and a privilege.

The fact that I am the first Foreign Minister of Cyprus to address the AJC Global Forum, represents a turning point in our relationship with the American Jewish Committee and perhaps even with the American Jewish community at large.

It certainly reflects the efforts and forward thinking of the Executive Director of AJC, Mr. David Harris, and Mr. Jason Isaacson, who have been at the forefront of the efforts aimed at building and consolidating this relationship. Both have become frequent visitors to Cyprus and we look forward to welcoming them once again to the island later this month.

Last week, Israel marked its 64th year of Independence, and this is also an opportunity to offer our congratulations and express our sincere hope - which I think everyone here shares, as do many millions the world over - that by its 65th birthday, Israel and its people will not only enjoy prosperity and happiness but also peace and security. We, therefore, hope that the peace process in the Middle East will resume soon, leading to peace and creating conditions that will allow the friendly people of Palestine to live in their own state, and the friendly people of Israel in their historic homeland, in conditions of security.

During the past three years, the relationship between Cyprus and Israel has drawn much media attention and became the subject of discussion at various political, economic and academic fora. Indeed, there has been a flurry of activity with an impressive exchange of high level visits, starting with the visits of President Christofias and President Peres last year and the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu this year, the latter being the first ever visit of a Prime Minister of the State of Israel to Cyprus since the Independence of Cyprus in 1960.

Last August, I paid an official visit to Israel, three weeks after my appointment as Foreign Minister. The visit was my second visit abroad after my trip to Greece. Foreign Minister Lieberman paid recently a reciprocal visit to Cyprus, almost all Ministers of the Cyprus Cabinet and many other senior officials visited Israel during the last two years and over 30 bilateral agreements have been signed.

These high level visits have tended to draw the spotlight and because of their political nature, have given the impression that the relationship between Cyprus and Israel has just begun. This would be far from true.

The fact of the matter is that for decades Cyprus and Israel have had excellent relations and have cooperated in a variety of fields. Like many bilateral relations between states, there have been “fat” years and “lean” years – to use a biblical metaphor. The people of Cyprus, themselves being under the yoke of colonial rule at the time, welcomed Jewish refugees from Europe during the darkness of the Holocaust and contributed to efforts of the Hagana to smuggle Jews interned in British camps out of Cyprus and to Mandate Palestine. 53,000 Jews were interned in British camps in Cyprus from 1946 to 1949 and 2000 children were born on the island during that period. Indeed, the core of the Israel-Cyprus Friendship Association comprises to this day those who worked together for freedom in the late 1940s, and their offspring; a relationship that now spans three generations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Israeli tourists, but also engineers and agriculture experts contributed to the development of our industries. Not a year goes by without several dozen Cypriot patients benefiting from the state of the art medical technologies offered in Israeli hospitals. Today, there are Cypriot doctors, either completing their internships or honing specialized skills in Israel. Israeli desalination technologies are up and running in Cyprus, while Cypriot fire fighting crews and helicopters were the first on the scene two years ago, when the terrible fires ravaged the Carmel Mountains.

There is also a dimension which is much more difficult to measure, one which does not easily draw headlines, but which lends me to believe that the relationship between Israelis and Cypriots is being built on solid foundations of mutual appreciation and respect. I am referring to a mutual recognition that we share a common sphere, be it in terms of the synthesis called Mediterranean Culture, dating back several millennia, or in the values of democracy and freedom, or even in the fact that we are both small countries, with few resources and facing many challenges. These are not simply subjects of discussion for the common Cypriot and Israeli during their encounters, but keys with which they can traverse into the worldview of the other, building trust, confidence and commitment.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The strong bonds which I just described, the exchanges between Cypriots and Israelis on the human level, is a long standing one. However, during the past three years or so, a number of developments occurred in our region, the Eastern Mediterranean, that have inevitably drawn Cyprus and Israel closer on the economic and political level as well.

The first has been the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits offshore. The second has been the feeling in Israel that its strategic depth lies to its west. The third is the Arab Spring. The discovery of hydrocarbon deposits offshore is a major development for all countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. Politics aside, the enormity of investment required to exploit this offshore treasure, creates an impetus of its own toward greater cooperation.

However, it is also a development which requires a great deal of wisdom, vision, and patience because of the fragile nature of the region and because decisions made today will affect many generations to come.

As such, the Republic of Cyprus has proceeded very carefully in this matter. The discovery of the hydrocarbons is only the tip of the iceberg as far as we are concerned. We began in the 1990s by methodically building up agreements with our neighbours in line with international law and especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We concluded agreements, first with Egypt in 2003, then Lebanon in 2007 and Israel in 2010, delineating our Exclusive Economic Zones, which then allowed us to proceed with an initial round of licensing for exploratory offshore drilling.

For us it was also important to make it clear to all our neighbours, and especially the ones with whom we had signed delimitation agreements, that agreements with one did not come at the expense of the other. We are delighted to note that this is a message that was well received by all three – Egypt, Lebanon and Israel – and that in practice, because we are perceived to be honest interlocutors, a positive attitude has dominated talks about other agreements necessary for the exploitation of the offshore wealth.

So, when the initial exploratory drilling was carried out by the American company Noble Energy in one of the blocks of our Exclusive Economic Zone last year, it was done within an agreed framework. The announced results from this single drilling indicate an estimated gross resource range of 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, with a gross mean of 7 Tcf.

This discovery creates new prospects and a new momentum regarding the role of Cyprus in the wider political and energy related environment in the Eastern Mediterranean. We believe this will have a historic impact on Cyprus. Historic in the sense that it is a “game changer” because it makes it potentially possible for Cyprus to undergo improvements that will affect all its citizens, work as a catalyst for the reunification of the island and, most importantly, move from a situation of occupation to one of coexistence and collaboration.

Worthy of mention is the fact that the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin Province, as well as 1.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 223 Trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas and 6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids in the Nile Delta Basin Province in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The recent Cyprus discoveries, in conjunction with the impressive results of the two drillings in the Israeli Exclusive Economic Zone, Tamar and Leviathan, confirm that the Levant Basin and the wider region of the Southeastern Mediterranean constitute a reliable hydrocarbon resource, which could transform the geopolitics of the wider region. For Cyprus the strategic cooperation with Israel, Greece and other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, aims at the creation of the necessary infrastructure and the exploitation of hydrocarbons in ways that would be beneficial to peace, progress and prosperity for the entire region.

In this respect, we promote with the same vigor our cooperation on all energy related issues with our two other close neighbors, Lebanon and Egypt.

We strongly believe that such developments will impact positively both on the European Union, particularly in terms of energy security, but also on the Middle East, with real prospects for increased economic cooperation, stability and development among all the countries of the rich in hydrocarbon Eastern Mediterranean region.

Unfortunately not all our neighbours have reacted positively to our efforts to exercise our sovereign rights, as these are acknowledged by international law.

As you know, Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, and continues to occupy a large part of our territory with tens of thousands of heavily armed troops, maintaining a secessionist entity, keeping one third of the population of Cyprus forcibly displaced and exploiting their properties, not cooperating to ascertain the fate of missing persons, destroying and looting the cultural heritage of the island and holding Famagusta captive and a ghost city for the past 38 years, in gross violation of numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

However, a reinvigorated Turkey, boosted by economic success, a political model combining selective democratic values and Islam, aggressive and self-righteous rhetoric, which at times echo with revanchist overtones about the revival of an Ottoman past, appears keen on bullying its way into a position of hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The offshore drilling by Cyprus in its Exclusive Economic Zone, acknowledged by the international community, including United States, as being within the sovereign rights of Cyprus, brought about the fierce reaction of Turkey. Since September of last year she has threatened to use force, has carried out air and naval military exercises south of Cyprus and has violated our sovereign rights with actions contrary to international law, and specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

I do not want to belabour the point, and it is by no means my intent to turn this opportunity to address you into “Turkey bashing.” However, what I do wish to point out by mentioning Turkey’s behaviour toward Cyprus is that it has not gone unnoticed by our neighbours. And while they recognize, as we do, the significance of Turkey, there is skepticism about Turkey’s true intentions, and whether Turkey is a stabilizing factor in the region. Similarly, they are not convinced that Turkey’s model can fill the vacuum which the uprisings in many Arab states against the rule of oppressive dictatorships have created.

I think that on this point Cyprus and Israel have the same perception. So, when I mention the fact that Israel looks westward for its strategic depth, I by no means wish to imply, as some media have, that there are efforts underway to cobble together a defensive alliance between Cyprus and Israel. What has actually happened is that in Israel there is a growing sense that the only sure corridor toward friendly states lies to the west, in other words through Cyprus to the rest of Europe, and therefore the corridor must be kept open. I think that it is fair to say that there are also others who read the geopolitical map in very similar ways at this time. One of them, I believe, is the United States. Similarly, and again, I think neither Israel nor Cyprus are alone in this, there are concerns about the direction the Arab Spring may be taking. Obviously, the political uprisings occurred in different settings, where different variable are at play. Cyprus, like our partners in the European Union, is watching developments closely, and we are lending assistance and support, where possible to help ensure the non-violent transition toward more representative governments and the creation of societies where democracy and the rule of law become the norm rather than the exception.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

I have tried to address here, as briefly as possible, some issues that deserve much more time. But I would be remiss if I concluded without mentioning what is probably one of the most important events in the modern history of Cyprus, certainly the most important since we joined the European Union in 2004. I am referring to the fact that the Republic of Cyprus will assume the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July, and hold that responsibility until the end of 2012.

Preparations have been underway for many months, and the undertaking is an enormous challenge for a small country – certainly one which is new to this experience. The economic crisis which is more or less global, is being felt throughout the European Union, and is creating fissures in the Union. The task of the Cypriot Presidency, like those preceding it, is to form a common denominator for the 27 member states on issues that are highly contentious and very difficult to resolve during the best of times.

We are confident that we will be prepared to meet the challenges and contribute toward a Presidency whose outcomes will have a positive effect on the Union. We are counting on the cooperation of our friends and partners in the Union, but also our friends and partners who are not members of the EU, in Israel and the United States. We will be open for dialogue, as always, and to new ideas. Let me conclude by quoting President Peres who ended his toast at the official dinner hosted by President Christofias by emphasizing that “Cyprus and Israel are examples of how success is not dependent upon territory. A small land can house big things. A state small in its territory can be a great country in spirit, and Cyprus and Israel are the finest examples”.

Thank you once again and Shalom to you all.

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