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Kasoulides to talk Syria with EU counterparts

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides

By Stefanos Evripidou

FOREIGN MINISTER Ioannis Kasoulides has flown to Lithuania to participate in a discussion on the crises in Syria and Egypt with EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting, known as Gymnich, will take place in Vilnius today and tomorrow with issues on the agenda including recent developments in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

EU ministers will have the opportunity to exchange views with Kerry on Syria and Egypt during tomorrow’s deliberations.

Kasoulides, who returned on Tuesday from Cairo, has already briefed the US government on his trip to Egypt in a phone conversation with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

According to an official press release, during the conversation on Wednesday, initiated by Burns, the two reconfirmed the stabilising role of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean and wider Middle East.

The Cypriot minister went to Egypt with two main objectives: to reopen the channels of communication between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the interim government; and to strengthen ties between Cyprus and Egypt’s new leadership.

The general feeling among supporters of the military-backed interim government in Egypt is that the US and EU have not shown enough support for the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi from power, following mass public unrest over his rule.

For his part, Kasoulides has been a staunch supporter of the new government within the EU, highlighting the regional importance of Egypt, as well as problems suffered by Christian denominations in the country as a result of the crisis.

Since taking office, the Cypriot minister has gone to great lengths to put Cyprus’ foreign policy on a Western-friendly footing.

According to sources, around two weeks ago, the Cypriot foreign ministry responded immediately to a tip from French authorities that a Cyprus-flagged container ship was carrying prohibited cargo, intended for Syria.

The ship, managed by a Greek shipping company, had loaded its cargo in Shanghai and was heading for Port Said in Egypt, from where it was believed the goods would be transported to Syria using another ship.

The Cypriot authorities got in touch with the shipping company which cooperated fully, changing the course of the ship from Port Said to La Spezia port in Italy.

On arrival in Italy, the cargo was unloaded and checked by the Italian authorities who discovered containers carrying dual use material believed to fall under the EU sanctions regime against Syria. The goods were confiscated.

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