Lunch Briefing by Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulides for Congressional staffers - July 15, 2014
“CYPRUS: PROSPECTS FOR REUNIFICATION”
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here in Washington DC in such great company.
Allow me first to express my sincere appreciation to the American Jewish Committee, the Hellenic American Leadership Council, and the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance for this excellent and timely initiative.
I would also like to thank all of you for taking the time to attend today’s briefing. Your valued presence here today testifies to the renewed interest in developments in Cyprus, and by extension in developments in the turbulent, fragile – but also uniquely promising – region of the Eastern Mediterranean.
My presence here is timely for a number of reasons:
First, because it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Forty dark years in the history of Cyprus, and in Europe’s contemporary history. Forty years of division, Turkish military occupation on European soil, of flagrant violation of human rights and religious freedoms.
It is high time to end the unacceptable status quo and to reunite Cyprus and its people.
I am here at a time when the relations between Cyprus and the United States of America have entered a new era. Never before have our two countries worked together so closely on an array of issues, including counter-terrorism, crisis response, human and drug trafficking, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destructions, and the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Vice President Biden put it like this - “little Cyprus has taken up an outsized draw in our pure national interests and within our strategic partnership.”
This new era in bilateral relations was made evident by the Vice President’s visit to Cyprus in May, the first visit to Cyprus by a US Vice-President since 1962. It has been followed just last week by visits by the Deputy Under Secretary for Defence and the Deputy Under Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.
The increase in high-level contacts aptly demonstrates the creation of a strong partnership between Cyprus and the United States. A partnership that we can now refer to as strategic. Secretary of State Kerry called the United States and Cyprus “strategic partners” prior to the Vice President’s visit to Cyprus at a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Ioannis Kasoulides. Vice President Biden said the same during his time on the island, and only last week at a speech at the 42nd Clergy-Laity Congress he reiterated, and I quote, that “Cyprus, under the leadership of a new Cyprus President has become a genuine strategic partner… an essential partner.”
The tightening and strengthening of our relations is the direct result of our conscious effort to reorient our foreign policy. Cyprus’s new approach aims to utilize its geostrategic location and to firmly position Cyprus as a key player within the western security system.
My presence here also coincides with the energy transformation that is taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean. Exploration and exploitation activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus have revealed significant quantities of natural gas. Exciting discoveries have also been made in the exclusive economic zone of Israel, while there are potential discoveries offshore Greece, Egypt and Lebanon.
The involvement of international energy giants such as the US firm Noble Energy, the French company Total, and the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS testifies to the incredible potential that exists.
These energy developments can be a game changer in the region as they provide the opportunity for the Eastern Mediterranean to become a global energy hub. In doing so it can provide energy security for Europe through the creation of an alternative energy corridor. All of us here can appreciate the importance of diversification of energy routes in the context of the current crisis in Ukraine.
In a fragile region wrought by turmoil Cyprus is not a common denominator – it is the only common denominator. Cyprus has historically maintained excellent relations with all countries in the region, save one. By virtue of its proximity, historic relations and justified special interest, Cyprus has a natural catalytic role to play in contributing to the stability, peace, security and economic development with and among our neighbours.
We are witnessing a flourishing cooperation between Israel and Cyprus, spanning from the exploration and exploitation of natural resources to working together in the interests of the region’s stability. It is a natural alliance based on common values and interests. It is relationship that is essentially redrawing the geopolitical map of the eastern Mediterranean and one that directly concerns the United States.
Cyprus is the country that brought together Israel and Lebanon in order to resolve the exclusive economic zone boundary dispute. Your very capable Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy, Amos Hochstein [Χόκ-στάιν], has been actively involved in the negotiations.
Cyprus is also the key with regards to cooperation between Israel and Egypt. Vice-President Biden was very clear about that during his meeting with President Anastasiades last May in Cyprus.
Reunification of Cyprus will undoubtedly have a decisive and positive influence in a region where peace and stability have proven to be an expensive commodity. Moreover, a prospective settlement will release and amplify the full potential of the hydrocarbon resources.
Allow me to provide you with a brief overview of where we are in our efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem.
Following months of painstaking negotiations with the Turkish side, the United States’s contribution proved critical in reaching agreement on the 11th of February Joint Declaration, which sets the framework of the basic parameters within which to negotiate. Our insistence on having such a document was so as to avoid the endless unproductive negotiations of the past.
We proceeded with a ‘screening’ process of positions and as of the 6th of May we are in the second phase of more in depth negotiations for each of the six chapters.
During this second phase, we expect, as does the UN, comprehensive proposals on all chapters to be submitted and to be discussed. We cannot continue the past practice of concentrating solely on chapters that interest the Turkish Cypriot side, such as power sharing, without discussing inter-dependently – as called for by the Joint Declaration - all chapters, including territory, security guarantees, citizenship and settlers.
Although the extreme positions presented by the Turkish side are deeply worrying, we are determined to continue negotiating constructively and creatively, always within the agreed UN framework for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, with political equality, as set out in the relevant Security Council Resolutions and the High Level Agreements.
As Cyprus will continue to be a member of the United Nations and the European Union, any eventual solution will have to safeguard EU values and principles and be in line with EU law. A Cypriot citizen cannot have for example fewer rights in his own country than a German or an Italian will have in relation to freedom of movement and residence.
We must ensure that reunited Cyprus is a fully functional member state of the European Union, which can participate effectively in European decision making without hindering it. [It is for this reason that the President insists on enhancing the role of the European Union in the negotiations - in a supplementary role to the United Nations - to give the necessary guidance to the two sides.]
The direct engagement of Turkey is vital and this is an assessment that the US fully shares. This administration has been trying to pass the message to Turkey that the status quo does not benefit them economically, politically, militarily and that they stand to benefit significantly from a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. A solution will enable Turkey to claim a much needed foreign policy success – given the collapse of its ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy - it will enable Turkey to be part of the regional co-operation underway in the field of energy, and will boost its accession path to the European Union.
In parallel to the negotiations, we are working with our allies, and particularly the United States, to reach an agreement on bold, game-changing, confidence building measures in parallel to the negotiations. The aim is to give a much needed dynamic impetus to the process, to help restore a climate of trust between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and to provide evidence of Turkey’s intentions.
President Anastasiades has put on the table a comprehensive proposal that leads to a win-win result for all parties. It is on the basis of this proposal that Vice President Biden tried to achieve an agreement between the two sides during his visit to Cyprus.
Unfortunately, it proved impossible as the Turkish side remained intransigent. Nevertheless, we have signalled to the United States that we are ready to resume our efforts.
We envision an Eastern Mediterranean that is transformed into a region of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity. Cyprus, a little island of less than one million inhabitants, can lead this transformation, with the support of our allies - who also stand to benefit from such a development - and in close cooperation with its neighbours. Turkey has the choice to be part of this transformation by assuming its responsibilities and resolving the Cyprus problem.