By Christos Stylianides
A COLUMNIST, in an article about the discovery of significant quantities of natural gas in the Levantine basin, made the following astute comment: “God must have a very sick sense of humour to endow this part of the world with such a treasure.” In truth, there is no other case in which relations of countries surrounding an area rich in hydrocarbon deposits, are so mixed up as in that of the eastern Mediterranean.
A quick look at the map of the region is enough to establish that the deposits of the eastern Mediterranean are, to a certain degree, diplomatically trapped. Turkey occupies one third of Cyprus, is in a war situation with Syria and has shot its relations with Israel, although she is gradually improving them. Syria is at odds with Lebanon and in a state of war with Israel. Lebanon is in dispute with Israel which is in dispute with all its neighbours apart from Jordan. Egypt, meanwhile, after the Arab Spring has entered a period of instability.
If we look at the same map with the Cyprus problem solved, the picture changes completely. Cyprus would have normal relations with Turkey to add to its traditionally very good relations with all Arab countries of the region; meanwhile its ties with Israel are closer than ever before. With the Cyprus problem solved, Cyprus would become a common component of stability for a group of states that among them have the most problematic relations, in the most unstable region of the world.
The energy deposits of the Levantine basin are estimated in the region of 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These quantities are too small to alter the world energy balance but are huge in relation to the region’s energy balance. Turkey and Greece, like other countries, are eager to free themselves of their dependence on the Russian market, especially after the crisis in Ukraine. Cyprus currently has options which it is evaluating. But with its national problem solved, it would not only have a role and a say regarding its own deposits. It would also seek a share – political, economic and geo-political – from the deposits of the whole region.
It is the responsibility of the leadership of the states in the region to utilise energy as a factor of stability and not as a source of instability. Turkey needs to make a big leap and facilitate the Cyprus solution, so there can be an energy union in the region. Only under such conditions, which would benefit everyone, would the geopolitically delicate eastern Mediterranean escape from the vicious circle of clashes and rivalries.
Cyprus is the only EU member that is at the heart of the eastern Mediterranean, but because of its national problem it cannot fully take advantage of the role provided by its position and history. Energy could solve all the problems, political and economic, and change the fate of the entire region. These big aims necessitate big and brave decisions which would be compatible with the geo-political balances of the region and in harmony with EU policies.
The Anastasiades government has re-defined the orientation of the country and as the US Secretary of State, John Kerry recently noted, Cyprus constitutes a strategic partner of the US in the eastern Mediterranean. The visit this week to Cyprus by US Vice President Joe Biden is also linked to this new approach. In 1962 the fledgling Cyprus Republic was visited by then Vice President Lyndon B Johnson, reciprocating the official visit of President Makarios to the US at the invitation of President Kennedy.
The US – irrespective of the prevailing view in Cyprus – always wanted a stable, Western Cyprus. Twice, in 1964 and 1967, in the Johnson presidency, the US intervened to stop a Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Unfortunately, as a state, we did not see the value of the US as a strategic partner, lost our bearings and sought protectors and saviours in the Third World, wrecking our trustworthiness and finding ourselves on our own in 1974 to face the Turkish invasion.
Today we have a golden opportunity to build strong foundations in our relations with the West. To achieve this, to play a role in the region, to maximise the advantages from our energy wealth, to, at last, solve our national problem, we should remain faithful to this course. Nobody has stopped us from having relations with any country in the world, but our political orientation should unwaveringly remain with the West.
Christos Stylianides is a former deputy and government spokesman. He is a DISY candidate in the elections for the European Parliament