By Stefanos Evripidou
FOREIGN Minister Ioannis Kasoulides yesterday concluded his visit to Egypt, holding a series of meetings with top Egyptian officials aimed at enhancing bilateral and EU relations with the troubled neighbour.
Despite fears a military operation against Syria might be launched at the weekend, the Cypriot minister left for Egypt on Sunday, highlighting the importance given to bilateral relations with the neighbouring country.
On Monday, he met his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmi, to discuss developments in Egypt, Syria and the region as well as the Cyprus problem and bilateral relations, with emphasis on the energy sector.
According to a foreign ministry statement, Kasoulides was briefed by Fahmi on the current situation following the military’s removal from power of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, after popular uprisings broke out throughout the country against his rule.
Morsi’s refusal to go quietly led to a standoff between the army and his supporters, leading to bloodshed on the streets, and mutual accusations of unprovoked and disproportionate violence.
Kasoulides rejected any notion of there having been a military coup, arguing it was no more a coup than when the army responded two years ago to popular demand and forced Egypt’s long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Following his meeting with Fahmi, the Cypriot minister expressed satisfaction regarding Egypt’s compliance with the roadmap aimed at stabilising the fragile situation and returning Egypt to a democratically elected government.
The two also agreed on the need for regular meetings aimed at promoting bilateral cooperation on energy, hydrocarbons, maritime policy, tourism, trade and investments.
Kasoulides was also received by interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour, to whom he conveyed a written message from President Nicos Anastasiades.
The Cypriot minister also met Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail. The ministers agreed to intensify contacts between the two sides, aiming to complete pending agreements and enter into new ones on energy cooperation.
Before his return yesterday, Kasoulides met Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawy, Arab League Secretary-general Nabil El Arabi, Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Dr Ahmed El Tayeb and Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros II.
Kasoulides’ goals in travelling to Cairo were twofold: to restore contacts between the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the interim government, and enhance Cyprus’ ties with Egypt’s new leadership.
The latter includes securing Cyprus’ energy interests, and specifically, erasing any lingering questions over the 2003 agreement signed between the two countries on the delineation of their respective exclusive economic zones.
The short trip was also seen as part of a wider effort by Kasoulides to shift Cypriot diplomacy in line with Western interests, while not upsetting relations with Russia.
Cyprus has tried to play a delicate balancing act over the unfolding Syria crisis, unreservedly condemning the use of chemical weapons in Damascus, while offering use of Cyprus as a potential transit point for foreign nationals fleeing trouble in Syria and Lebanon.
Highlighting Cyprus’ designation as a temporary port of shelter from the crisis, Kasoulides sought and received assurances from Western partners that Cyprus would not be used a launch pad for military operations against Syria.
Given the numerous Western destroyers and submarines already in the Eastern Mediterranean, the move was likely geared toward assuaging local concerns and improving Cyprus’ international image for the sake of its tourism sector.
However, the exercise in damage limitation was always going to be difficult if not futile, given frequent British press reports highlighting the importance of British bases on the island to any military operation on Syria and their vulnerability to attack.
The arrival of six RAF Typhoon jets at Akrotiri, and media reports on the huge significance of Britain’s surveillance and listening posts in Cyprus for American operations further hampered Kasoulides’ effort to paint Cyprus as a country of peace, stability and security.