By Stefanos Evripidou
THE CYPRUS problem is on a short list of world problems that US Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to solve during his term in office, said US Ambassador to Nicosia John Koenig yesterday.
Speaking before an audience of overseas Cypriots in the capital, the US diplomat pointed to the recent “more high-level attention” given to Cyprus among American officials, including Kerry.
“As he prepared to take over as Secretary of State, Senator Kerry wrote down a short list of world problems which he hoped to address and resolve during his term. ‘Cyprus’ was prominent on that list,” said Koenig.
“This is indicative of the high-level commitment of the United States to provide support to the UN-facilitated settlement process,” he added.
Koenig voiced his “frustration” at the fact the conflict remains unresolved after so many decades, and spoke of a “sense of skepticism” among Cypriots across the island about the prospects for a solution.
“But for the first time in a while, I’m also sensing that there is renewed optimism that a solution is within reach.”
The ambassador echoed President Barack Obama’s recent statement that an opportunity for a settlement exists, with new possibilities brought on by recent events.
He referred to the election of President Nicos Anastasiades in February. Despite the fact he had to immediately confront “an economic crisis of systemic proportions”, Anastasiades has voiced his commitment to finding a solution, while Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have also stated their interest in supporting a new round of peace talks in October.
The American diplomat said he expected the next few weeks to be important for “preparing the ground and injecting a dynamism into any new process to ensure results”.
Koenig referred to those who believe the economic crisis has highlighted the urgency of finding a solution and creating new opportunities for growth that are being missed under the status quo.
“A solution would remove barriers to foreign investment, rationalise economic and commercial activity in the region, and allow all Cypriots to enjoy a long-deserved peace dividend.”
He described the discovery of significant quantities of natural gas in offshore areas of the Eastern Mediterranean as “another important new factor in the environment for Cyprus settlement efforts”.
The United States is “proud” that an American company, Noble Energy, is leading the way in the development of resources in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), he said.
Koenig repeated American support for Cyprus’ right to exploit the resources in its EEZ, adding, “and we believe that the eventual profits from those resources should be shared equitably among all Cypriots in the context of a solution to the division of Cyprus”.
He called on all parties to avoid actions that will increase tension, noting that exploration and development could continue in parallel with settlement talks.
A positive evaluation of Noble’s Aphrodite field in Cyprus’ Block 12 would lead to decisions on the construction of an LNG plant in Cyprus, allowing the export of natural gas to markets around the world.
With other major energy companies – Total, ENI, KOGAS –also now investing in Cyprus’ EEZ, “the potential for cheaper energy costs for Cyprus and export revenue give real hope that there is a light at the end of the economic crisis tunnel”, he said.
“However, everyone clearly appreciates that full exploitation of the EEZ would be eased by a negotiated settlement.”
A settlement would also encourage many more American energy and energy services companies to invest in Cyprus as well as other businesses, he added.
The American diplomat described Cyprus as an island of stability in a troubled region, despite the ongoing conflict.
“It also is playing a central role in the development of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean that can have a profound impact on energy security in the region and beyond.”
Solving the Cyprus problem would enhance that stability and eliminate many of the uncertainties that linger despite the relative calm at the Green Line, he said.
“The United States believes a Cyprus settlement will advance our interest in stability in a critically important region, the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Koenig predicted increased engagement economically and politically between the United States and Cyprus.
With US foreign assistance funding for Cyprus, mainly channeled through UNDP over the years, coming to an end, this was a fitting time for increased private sector investment.
Since 1974, the United States has provided assistance worth more than $500 million (€374m) to Cyprus, helping to pave the way for the reunification of the island, he said.