By Maria Myles
The return of Varosha could change the dynamics of the Cyprus issue in a positive way, with recent discussions on the resumption of UN-led peace talks providing a “good foundation” towards a renewed effort, the US ambassador has said.
In an interview with the Cyprus New Agency, published yesterday, ambassador John Koenig said Ankara is paying a price for the continued existence of the problem, as it impedes its European aspirations and continues to be on the UN Security Council agenda.
“This is not a good thing,” he said.
The ambassador described the energy factor as “a new and dynamic” element in the region, which presents opportunities to all neighbouring countries to work together and deal with each other in new ways that could help resolve political disputes.
On bilateral relations, he said cooperation with the Cyprus government has been incredibly helpful in the US’ fight against international crime, terrorism and drug trafficking, pointing out that “Cyprus, by virtue of its geographic position, is extremely important to us.”
Koening said the government of President Nicos Anastasiades is more committed to closer cooperation with the US than any other Cypriot government before, making the Republic an even stronger partner.
On US moves to help resume the peace talks, he said Washington has discussed with interested parties very actively in recent months how and when the talks can begin in the autumn, noting that they must be “very well prepared”.
Questioned on specific moves to return Varosha (the fenced off area of Turkish occupied Famagusta) to UN administration, he said the US understands the potential value of this important step in that it could change the dynamics of the Cyprus issue in a positive way.
“This is something under review and we think it deserves careful consideration by the sides,” he said. “There is a logic to such steps to reignite a sense of optimism, of progress, a sense that a Cyprus solution would bring them very tangible benefits that relate to their lives, the logic that underpins an idea like the opening of Varosha can apply to other issues as well.”
With regard to Turkey’s role, Koenig said it would be up to Ankara closer to the time when negotiations resume to make its own views clear, just as the Turkish Cypriots need to do.
Asked to outline his position on the regional energy map, he said the undersea natural gas deposits should be a great boon for the region, describing it as “a new and dynamic factor”.
“This is a region that has been in many ways characterised by tension over the years, perhaps there are ways to creatively develop regional cooperation in the energy field in order to overcome some of these tensions and create a brighter future,” he told CNA.
Asked if such cooperation could actually materialise without a political solution in Cyprus, he noted that Cyprus certainly has a substantial quantity of gas, so does Israel and Turkey is a big market with a great demand for gas.
“Much thought must be given to how all of the countries in the region – including Egypt and Lebanon – can work together to make the most of the opportunity presented by this natural wealth, that they open the way to new ways of dealing with each other that could contribute to the resolution of these political disputes,” he said.
In connection with incentives to attract more business and investment, he referred to the positive prospects in sight in relation to the energy sector and said efforts are underway to identify specific steps that would broaden the scope for more commercial activity, such as revising and updating the bilateral tax treaty and revising the investment treaty.
Commenting on changes since his arrival on the island, he noted the “very encouraging” reaction by Cypriots to the really difficult situation following the eurozone decisions.
“I am impressed by the very practical way they reacted,” he said. “They picked themselves up, they are bouncing back. Cypriots have a lot of ingenuity, entrepreneurial abilities and they are rediscovering them.”
The Ambassador also referred to “a kind of renewal with the election of President Anastasiades, a government more committed to closer cooperation with the US than we have ever seen before”.