By Stefanos Evripidou
PRESIDENT NICOS Anastasiades yesterday borrowed from the Beatles, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and even the Bible to argue his point to a London audience that, however small, Cyprus has an enhanced geopolitical role to play in the region.
During a speech at the London School of Economics (LSE) last night, the president said the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean has handed Cyprus the opportunity to play a crucial role in enhancing regional peace, stability and prosperity.
Anastasiades began his talk- titled, ‘The true story about the geopolitical role of Cyprus: David or Goliath?’- noting that when he left the UK in the late 1960s as a young man full of dreams, he was ready to follow the advice of the Beatles to literally ‘follow the sun’.
“But little did I know,” he joked.
He went on to share his vision of Cyprus playing an enhanced geopolitical role in the region in the future, describing the island as “a country small in size, just like David, but big in potential”.
“And as the story of David and Goliath teaches us, power is not always measured in size; power is not always a privilege of the big.”
Anastasiades, a graduate of maritime law from University College London, told his LSE audience that one of the main goals of his government the last ten months has been “the conscious reorientation of the foreign policy of Cyprus”.
This policy includes: solving the Cyprus problem for the “immense benefit” of all Cypriots and regional stability; safeguarding the exploitation of Cyprus’ natural wealth and enjoying the internal and regional economic and political benefits of that; enhancing Cyprus’ role and participation in the European security architecture; and actively contributing to promoting peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean while deepening bilateral relations with neighbouring countries.
He highlighted a key component of that policy which marks a strategic shift in Cyprus’ foreign policy, the decision to initiate procedures to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme.
“We consider our contribution to effectively tackling the asymmetric threats of terrorism, illegal immigration, human, drug and arms trafficking, as well as diffusing humanitarian suffering resulting from political turmoil, to be an imperative responsibility of our foreign policy.”
He argued that Cyprus’ “positive and stabilising role” has been extensively recognised in recent months following the decision to use the island as a potential refuge from the Syria crisis for nationals of friendly countries. He also noted Cyprus’ support to efforts to remove chemical weapons from Syria.
Anastasides hailed the “recent most encouraging development” in the region taking place in the field of energy cooperation.
“Cooperation in hydrocarbons development can have a positive spillover effect in the political relations between the Eastern Mediterranean countries, building the foundations for regional peace,” he said.
Energy should not be a source of conflict, but can act as a catalyst for conflict resolution and regional integration through the creation of common interests, he argued.
The decisions taken by the Cyprus government today on its energy policy will have a “decisive effect on the quality of the region’s future”, he said.
“In energy policy formulation we seek to: explore synergies; optimise resource development; create opportunities and remove challenges, if any, for potential investors, through interstate bilateral and regional cooperation.”
He noted that the exclusive economic zone delimitation agreements signed with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel also mark the boundaries between the EU and the Middle East, while providing “legal security to oil and gas international companies to freely pursue exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the region”.
In addition, Cyprus has taken the initiative to build an onshore Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal “to realise the significant potential of becoming Eastern Mediterranean’s energy hub”.
This would allow neighbouring countries to “securely export gas to the EU and Asian markets”, he argued.
“From a political perspective, the Cypriot LNG terminal can be a hub for regional cooperation and a vehicle for regional dialogue between the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and at the same time serve as a direct link of the region with the EU.”
In a possible message to Israel, which is pondering how to export its own gas, Anastasiades said the question is not whether to embark on this joint project but when.
“The time is now. The main guiding principle is that the mutual benefit is of much higher importance and collectively more rewarding compared to any singular benefit. To this end, we would welcome the prospect of all our neighbours sharing this vision.”
He further argued that a Cyprus solution where Turkey fully respects the country’s sovereign rights to explore and exploit its resources would play a very important role in achieving peace and stability in the region.
“And despite our different geostrategic aspirations, the combination of the above-mentioned benefits would help both countries fulfill their geographical destiny and geopolitical role, to the mutual benefit of: the people of Cyprus; our neighbourhood; the EU and, evidently, the international community.”
Anastasiades said his government was “determined to rise to the challenge of our historic responsibility” to provide a more stable, prosperous and reconciliatory future in the region.
Quoting Churchill, he said: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”, adding that Cypriots choose to be optimists.
Speaking to reporters on the president’s official visit to London, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, echoed similar sentiments when he said: “We have noted the intense interest on the part of the British government and companies with regard to the energy plans of Cyprus.”
Lakkotrypis, also in London, said he met with his British counterpart Michael Fallon on Wednesday, during which they “discussed ways to cooperate and how the British government, which has extensive experience in the field of energy particularly in the North Sea, could assist Cyprus in this area, given that we are still at an early stage in developing our own resources.”
The Cypriot delegation attended a dinner hosted by the UK Minister of Energy, which was also attended by UK businessmen where they saw “the intense interest to get involved in the energy issues of Cyprus”.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasouildes, also in London, confirmed that there was discussion on the possibility of British Gas getting involved in the export of Cyprus’ gas, as an interim solution until enough natural gas has been found in Cyprus’ EEZ to attract investment for an LNG plant.
During the dinner hosted by the UK Energy Minister, Fallon described Cyprus as an “important partner for peace and security” in the region, noting it is a “stable European democracy in an otherwise often turbulent region”.
Fallon pointed out that oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean have the potential to lead to greater prosperity and security for all and can lead to greater diversity in the energy supply that Europe relies on.