By Stefanos Evripidou
CYPRUS, ISRAEL and Greece will sign a “historic” memorandum of understanding (MOU) on energy and water issues today, paving the way for the further strengthening of relations between the three countries.
Speaking after a meeting with Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis in Nicosia on Wednesday, Israeli Minister of Energy and Water Resources Silvan Shalom described today’s signing of the memorandum between the three countries as a “historical moment”, as it was the first of its kind between the three countries.
On the initiative of Cypriot Energy and Trade Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, Shalom and Greek Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change Yiannis Maniatis are in Nicosia to discuss issues concerning tripartite and regional cooperation in the energy sector, including protection of the environment from offshore hydrocarbon activities and connecting the electricity grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece through submarine power cables.
The signing of the MOU on energy and water collaboration, due today, shows how far the three countries have come in terms of cooperation, said Shalom. Relations are better than ever, he said, adding that the MOU will enable the three countries to strengthen relations even further.
“The fact that we are here shows that we do not only work well on (issues concerning) water, but it’s also about geopolitics, strategy and political issues between the three countries,” he said.
Shalom and Kouyialis yesterday held a bilateral meeting to discuss water development, management and protection.
The Israeli minister hailed the meeting as an indication of the good relations enjoyed between Israel and Cyprus these days, adding, “I believe we can do more”.
He spoke of a “big change” in relations and the “good will between the two sides” to help one another.
Enhanced relations between the two countries was also a major theme of President Nicos Anastasiades’ speech at the opening of a fifth desalination plant, which Israeli companies had helped build, near Limassol last night.
Anastasiades said energy cooperation between Israel and Cyprus, given their common interests in the exploration and exploitation of significant natural resources, could “become the driving force for an enhanced partnership between our two countries”.
Given the government’s determination to move ahead with the construction of an LNG plant, he invited Israel “to seriously consider committing to exporting Israeli gas” from the Cypriot LNG facility.
“This is all the more pertinent if one takes into account that Cyprus is perhaps Israel’s most stable partner in the region. In addition, our proximity to the Suez Canal is an important factor favouring the creation of a regional energy hub in Cyprus for the transportation of natural gas from Eastern Mediterranean countries, not only to Europe, but also to the Far East,” said Anastasiades.
Shalom invited Kouyialis to visit Israel in the near future and form a track of semi-annual meetings – once in Nicosia and once in Jerusalem – to exchange information, experts and university professors and to discuss recycled water, waste water treatment, as well as water security.
“We believe that it is necessary these days – even though Cyprus is not facing the same threats that Israel is facing from terrorists – that many countries invest in safeguarding water from attacks of terrorism. Israel would love to help Cyprus through its knowledge and experience, as it does with many other countries around the world,” he said.
Kouyialis echoed the Israel minister, saying that today’s signing of an MOU between the three countries was of the “utmost historical and political importance”.
Regarding collaboration on water issues, he noted that Cyprus and Israel are characterised by similar climate conditions and scarce water resources.
The Cypriot minister described Israel as “one of the world pioneers in the development of new water treatment technologies, such as desalination and waste water treatment and reuse in agriculture”, adding that Israeli companies are involved in three of Cyprus’ four permanent desalination plants.
Yesterday’s meeting marked a “new era of cooperation” in the field of sewage treatment and waste water reuse that will help Cyprus improve its water balance, said Kouyialis.
According to reports, the MOU will cover issues relating to energy infrastructure, renewable energy sources, financial and technical feasibility studies for potential projects, the development of natural resources, managing water resources and environmental protection.
The three ministers are also due to reconfirm their support for the private sector ‘EuroAsia Interconnector’ project, aiming to link the three countries by 2016 through an underwater electricity cable able to transfer energy with a total capacity of 2,000 MW.
The project consists of three junctions, connecting Israel to Cyprus, Cyprus to the Greek island of Crete and from there to the Greek mainland, in the Peloponnese, southern Greece, and on to Europe.
Asked about collaboration with Cyprus on energy security, and reports of bringing electricity to Cyprus from Israel, Shalom reserved comment for today.
“Of course, I’m here to find ways to make progress on those issues. We now have many things in common. We have a much better understanding, common interests if I may say, and even a common border,” he said referring to the delineation of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones.