TRILATERAL meetings have become a trademark of the Anastasiades presidency. On Monday, during a working visit to Lebanon, the president announced there would be a new trilateral meeting by the end of the year, involving Lebanon, Cyprus and Greece. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun would join Anastasiades and Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for a heads of state summit that would probably be held in Cyprus.
It would be the first such meeting involving Lebanon. Greece and Cyprus have had several trilateral meetings with Egypt and with Israel, while there is also one scheduled with Jordan in the autumn. Anastasiades likes to make a big song and dance about these trilateral summits, which seem to produce plenty of words – declarations and memorandums – but very little of practical import.
For instance, there have been several trilateral summits with Israel, but Nicosia has still not resolved its disagreement with Tel Aviv. A few weeks ago, a senior Israeli official said his country would go ahead with its energy co-operation with Turkey regardless of whether there is a Cyprus settlement. While this was understandable, it also put into perspective the trilateral summits/agreements organised by Anastasiades.
While these summits are a good thing, as they build communication channels with neighbouring countries, they do not substantially change anything. Cyprus enjoyed friendly ties with Egypt and Israel long before the tri-lateral meetings. The same applies to relations with Jordan and Lebanon; they have always been good. How will the trilateral meetings improve things in any way?
And why does Greece always have to be part of these meetings? Could this be because Anastasiades wants to promote his ‘trilateral’ diplomacy as being something more important than it is, as having regional strategic significance? It would be much more sensible if these initiatives were bilateral because they would be more effective, dealing with issues concerning two rather than three countries. By making them trilateral, their scope is limited to generalities and platitudes.
President Aoun, after his meeting with Anastasiades yesterday, highlighted a disagreement between Lebanon and Cyprus on the issue of energy. Although the two countries had signed an EEZ agreement, the Lebanese parliament has not ratified it because of claims that the Cyprus-Israel EEZ agreement included disputed waters which Lebanon claimed belonged to it; Israel included these as its own. Will this matter be resolved at the trilateral summit at the end of the year, or through negotiations between the two countries?
Lebanon’s president had no doubt how the matter could be resolved. “We encourage the governments of our two countries to increase the level of co-operation in the field of oil and gas and we stress the need to promote dialogue and fruitful co-operation in the field of energy between the two states,” he said.
The trilateral meeting was not mentioned as a means of resolving differences.