Address by the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus Dr. Ioannis Kasoulides Before the American Jewish Committee Global Forum Washington DC, 13 May 2014
Thank you Mr. President,
Colleagues, leadership of the AJC, honored guests, Dear Friends,
It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to be here this evening, and to have this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts. This is the second time that a Foreign Minister of Cyprus has been invited to address the AJC Global Forum. The first time could be described as a turning point in our relationship with the AJC and the Jewish American community at large. I think that this time represents a reassertion of the way this relationship has developed: it is a relationship of genuine friendship, appreciation, mutual respect and common interests.
The role of the AJC in identifying and promoting the relationship with Cyprus, and in helping advance our ties with Israel and the United States cannot be emphasized enough. It was the AJC leadership, with Executive Director David Harris at the helm, which was forward thinking and pro-active in efforts to build the conceptual framework of these ties.
AJC delegations have visited Cyprus on a number of occasions, to learn about our country, and see for themselves what we were all about. In Cyprus the AJC confirmed their initial impressions: we are a friendly, stable, democratic, and modern state; a neighbor that is an open gateway between the European Union and Israel; and A country with which a productive dialog could be developed on common values, shared concerns, and mutual aspirations.
From this podium I would like to extend our thanks to the AJC for their support, for their friendship, and to express the hope that we will soon have the pleasure of hosting more AJC delegations in Cyprus and expand even further our already close cooperation. Dear Friends,
Last week, Israel marked its 66th year of Independence., The joyous celebration of YOM ATSMA-UT (Γιόμ Ατσμαούτ) is preceded by two sad days of commemoration: the day of remembrance of the Shoah, the Holocaust and the six million Jews who perished at the hands of Nazi barbarism; and the day of remembrance for the thousands of Israelis who lost their lives in war and terrorist atrocities.
Earlier this year I was honored to have had the opportunity to address a commemoration ceremony in Cyprus, for the victims of the Holocaust. I have to say that this was a truly moving experience for me, especially bearing in mind that many Holocaust survivors who had tried to make their way to what was then British Palestine, were interned in camps in Cyprus.
For many in Cyprus and Israel, the experience of the internment camps has brought our two peoples closer together. Many friendships developed between Cypriots and Jews during the late ‘40s, motivated by a shared desire for freedom and independence. Over 2000 children were born in those camps, and the bonds of friendship forged with Cypriots have been passed on to their children and grandchildren.
Ladies and Gentlemen, During the past five years, the relationship between Cyprus and Israel has drawn much attention. In 2013 alone there were 14 high level visits to Israel, including a visit by President Anastasiades. The previous year, President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu, also visited Cyprus. Ministerial exchange visits are frequent and regular. In recent years, more than 30 bilateral agreements have been signed, establishing a solid framework for substantive cooperation in all fields.
Israeli engineers and agriculture experts contributed to the development of our industries. Thousands of tourists from Israel visit Cyprus every year and not a year goes by without several dozen Cypriot patients, especially children, benefiting from the state-of-the-art medical technologies offered in Israeli hospitals. Today, there are Cypriot doctors, completing their internships or honing specialized skills in Israel. Israeli desalination technologies are up and running in Cyprus, while Cypriot firefighting crews and helicopters were the first on the scene, when the terrible fires ravaged the Carmel Mountains a few years ago.
There is also another dimension which is much more difficult to measure, and which does not easily draw headlines. I am referring to a mutual understanding that we share a common sphere, be it in terms of our common Mediterranean Culture, dating back several millennia, or in the values of democracy and freedom that we both share. Perhaps it is also the simple fact that we are both small countries in a volatile neighborhood, with few resources, and many challenges. But most importantly, in Cyprus, Israel recognizes a steadfast, stable and predictable partner, one who is democratic, moderate, and discreet – a reliable partner through thick and thin. This fact is key in building trust, confidence and commitment between Israel and Cyprus. We will always be there for Israel!
Ladies and Gentlemen, 2014 marks a decade since the accession of the Republic of Cyprus in the European Union. During the past decade our efforts were geared to assert our position in the Union, proving that in spite of natural shortcomings, we could play a productive and responsible role in the EU. We feel that we have completed that task with success.
Realizing the changes that are taking place in our immediate neighborhood, we have taken a conscious decision to broaden the focus of our foreign policy. We feel that we have a responsibility to play a more active role in our immediate region, the Eastern Mediterranean, leveraging our excellent relations with our neighbors toward greater regional stability and prosperity. Indeed, not only is Cyprus not party to the Middle East conflict, but we are also perceived as an honest interlocutor, whose political stability and clear positions of principle make us a reliable partner.
During the past year, we have actively pursued a policy of contributing towards a more stable Middle East. The response has exceeded our expectations. We have been warmly welcomed by every single country of the neighborhood we have visited and our proposals for bilateral and multilateral cooperation have met with enthusiasm. In terms of our relationship with Israel, and with the United States, two relatively new developments have led to an increase of our economic, political and security relationship and cooperation. The first is the discovery of substantial hydrocarbon deposits in the area between Cyprus and Israel. The second is the Arab Spring and the instability which has resulted in the area.
The discovery of offshore hydrocarbon deposits 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. Moreover, it is our Foreign Policy Vision that the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean will serve as a catalyst for stability and cooperation, ushering in, a new era in our troubled region. Natural Gas can become for the countries of Eastern Mediterranean, what Coal and Steal was for Europe after the WWII, which was the precursor of the European Union.
Since the 1990s, Cyprus has proceeded in a very professional way to develop a framework of cooperation through agreements with our neighbors, based on international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, so that it will be possible to cooperate and equitably exploit these rich deposits.
For us it is important to make it clear to all our neighbors, and especially the ones with whom we have signed delimitation agreements, that agreements with one, do not come at the expense of the other. We are delighted to note that this is a message that has been well received by the three neighbors – Egypt, Lebanon and Israel – with which we have signed such agreements. Moreover, because we are considered to be honest interlocutors, a positive attitude has dominated talks on further agreements, necessary for the practical exploitation of the offshore wealth.
We were pleased to see that a U.S. company, Noble Energy, was one of the first to become involved in the offshore drilling in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, along with its Israeli partner companies, Delek and Avner. This year we expect that two more energy giants, Total and ENI, will be involved in further drilling offshore. We expect that the finds will bolster our plans to develop an LNG plant in Cyprus, establishing the island as a regional energy hub. Halliburton, another US giant has now open offices for their Middle East and Gulf operations in Cyprus.
For Cyprus the discovery of hydrocarbons 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, and contribute to the reunification of the island.
Our neighborhood is, unfortunately, an unstable one. The bloodshed in Syria has passed its three year mark, while the situation in Egypt continues to be fragile. So long as the security situation in the region remains in flux, democracies who share common values MUST cooperate in order to protect their citizens and their friends. Cyprus has consistently expanded its cooperation with the United States and with Israel in defense, security and counter-terrorism.
The latest State Department Terrorism country report on Cyprus, points very clearly to the enormous progress and tangible steps Cyprus has undertaken in these crucial areas. Suffice it for me to say here, that the sharing of intelligence and the active cooperation with our two friends has been unprecedented and fruitful.
It is also no secret that Israel looks westward for its strategic depth and Cyprus lies squarely along the corridor which links Israel to its allies in the west. In Israel there is a growing sense that this gateway must be kept open, and this is a view that is also shared by the United States.
Meanwhile, Cyprus, like our partners in the European Union, is watching developments in the area 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 would like to conclude by reaffirming our support for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. I realize that the process is at a terrible low. But I would like to remind here, that we have hit low points before. Peace-making takes courage, stamina and determination. It involves concessions and painful compromises. We know this from our own first-hand experience. But we owe it to our children and to our grandchildren to persevere. We owe them a better tomorrow. And for us, as for all our partners in the European Union, a better tomorrow for a secure Israel is the creation of a friendly, viable Palestinian state, which comes about as a result of negotiations and not by unilateral actions. A future which acknowledges Israel’s right to exist, within recognized and secure borders, and whose demographic composition does not alter its Jewish Character.
Let us hope that in the near future Israel and its people will not only enjoy prosperity and happiness, but also peace and security through a successful conclusion of the peace process. Thank you and Shalom to you all.