Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Talks

‘European Council ready to play its part’

John Koenig , US Ambassador to Cyprus

By Stefanos Evripidou

PRESIDENT NICOS Anastasiades yesterday welcomed the European Council’s conclusions on the peace talks, while noting the elevated importance given by Brussels to Cyprus’ potential contribution to the EU’s energy security.

In its conclusions yesterday, the European Council expressed support for a comprehensive solution within the UN framework, in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.

The Council underlined that the island’s division has endured for too long, and emphasised the importance of maintaining the momentum.

“The European Council stands ready to play its part in supporting the negotiations. Reunification of Cyprus would be to the benefit of all the Cypriot people and in this respect the European Council supports any confidence-building measures (CBMs) agreed by the two parties which could contribute decisively to creating a climate of mutual trust and give impetus to the negotiation process,” said the statement.

Speaking from Brussels, Anastasiades hailed the Council’s agreement to enhance the EU’s role in the peace talks. The Cyprus Mail was unable to find a specific reference to this upgraded role in the text of the Council Conclusions available online yesterday.

The president argued the government’s efforts to promote CBMs were also finding fertile ground.
“The international community, including the EU, accepts that the implementation of CBMs can play a catalytic role in the creation of a climate of mutual trust and give new impetus to the negotiations process,” he said.

Anastasiades also highlighted the reference to Cyprus in an EU document on energy diplomacy, noting the importance of Cyprus as a new hydrocarbons provider enhancing the energy security of the EU as a whole.

“As part of the effort to enhance the security of the EU’s energy supply, the strategic importance of energy reserves in the Southeastern Mediterranean has been elevated, highlighting the strategic importance of Cyprus as a European energy hub,” he said.

Turkish Cypriot negotiator Kudret Ozersay was quoted by Turkish Cypriot daily Halkin Sesi yesterday arguing that the Ukraine crisis has made the transfer of energy resources from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe more desirable, given the current high dependency on Russian gas.

This in turn makes the revaluation of the situation in Cyprus inevitable, he said.

US Ambassador to Cyprus John Koenig added to the debate in an interview with The Associated Press yesterday, saying a Cyprus solution would give Europe easier access to eastern Mediterranean gas deposits, helping to diversify the EU’s energy sources while providing a new supply channel to energy-hungry Turkey.

“A Cyprus solution would bring a great boost to this economy…We know that without a Cyprus solution, otherwise interesting ideas for moving natural gas to Europe through Turkey or to the Turkish market would be at least much more difficult, perhaps impossible,” said Koenig in the interview.

Turkey could help Cyprus “to transport gas to other markets in Europe” through newly built pipelines, he added.

In response, House President Yiannakis Omirou yesterday said it was “inconceivable” to link developments in the Cyprus problem with the issue of natural gas and to let the country’s natural wealth be hostage to Turkey.

Addressing the Larnaca Rotary Club earlier in the week, Koenig highlighted the “great interest right now in the Cyprus issue”, compared to the past when the island’s frozen conflict barely registered as a blip on the international radar.

During the recent US Secretary of State’s annual conference for American Chiefs of Mission in Washington, Secretary John Kerry himself and many senior officers in the department “gave a lot of emphasis to how interested they were in seeing progress being made on the Cyprus settlement”.

“And that I can tell you has never been the case before. This is the highest that Cyprus has been in terms of our ambition at any time,” he said.

The US diplomat said Kerry has a short list of problems he wants to see solved, and Cyprus is high up on that list, after Ukraine, Iran, and the Middle East peace process, “because it is so ready for a settlement, and because it would make such a difference”.

Koenig disputed press reports that the US has a new policy or specific plan on Cyprus, saying the country has “no grand scheme with respect to Cyprus or the region”.

He added: “What is different is the level of interest in Washington, and how American engagement is perceived by the Cypriot parties and other stakeholders, including Turkey; very importantly Turkey.”

Addressing allegations that the US is only interested in Cypriot gas resources, he said, “linking American interest in a solution to hydrocarbons in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone – again – is too simplistic”.

Arguing his case, Koenig pointed out that the US looks at energy in a global context, promoting policies that serve the world economy with “plentiful, secure and diverse sources of energy”. It has consistently supported Cyprus’ right to develop hydrocarbons in its EEZ, including at times when tensions were high.

“It is the foundation of our approach. We also believe that the eventual revenues should be shared equitably among all Cypriots in the context of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem.”

Thirdly, the US has called upon all actors in the region not to engage in acts that are provocative with regard to exploration and exploitation of these resources, arguing the gas “should be a focus for more cooperation in the region, not a source of confrontation”.

In the global context, the US observers “perhaps regrettably, that Cyprus is a newcomer to the market and doesn’t have a lot of experience”, he said, noting the great deal of uncertainty that will cloud the global markets over the next decade or so.

During his speech, Koenig makes reference to potential cooperation between Turkey and Cyprus in the interests of both countries after a Cyprus solution, “but not under current circumstances”.

He identified three factors that would aid a solution: use of social media to get more input from civil society; the traditional media playing a positive and constructive role; and a common vision from political leaders of a future reunified Cyprus.

“The United States has supported efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus Problem for decades — long before the technology of deep water drilling was invented and long before hydrocarbons were discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We will continue to support efforts of the two sides to find that solution. This is the time to get involved and support settlement efforts –even if the gas does not pay out. We see a real opportunity, as I have mentioned. That’s why President Obama, and, especially, Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry are devoting so much time and effort to this issue right now,” said the US ambassador.

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