By Jean Christou
Maintaining the status quo in Cyprus comes with a huge cost in terms of opportunities, by impeding regional cooperation, deterring investors, limiting growth and breeding insecurity, US ambassador John Koenig said yesterday.
Addressing a luncheon for delegates at the Economist Conference in Nicosia, Koenig said the US was concerned about the tensions caused by recent activities in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and their impact on the settlement talks.
Turkey has been violating the island’s EEZ since October 20. Earlier in the month, President Nicos Anastasiades withdrew from the UN-sponsored talks after Turkey declared its intention to send a seismic vessel to the area.
Koenig said the US had made it clear it supported Cyprus’ right to develop resources in its EEZ “and believe that the resources should be equitably shared in the context of an overall settlement”.
“Maintaining the status quo comes with huge opportunity cost in these troubling times. It impedes regional cooperation. It deters investors. It limits growth. And it breeds insecurity,” the ambassador said.
“A solution would enable Cyprus to not only chart a course for itself to a more secure and prosperous future but also to be a reliable leader in the region. It’s good for Cyprus, it’s good for us, and it’s good for the neighbourhood.”
Koenig also said the US supported Cyprus’ move to intensify cooperation with other regional states such as Egypt, Greece and Israel, which share a vision of a more stable, prosperous Eastern Mediterranean, one in which terrorism has been contained and where cooperation supplants confrontation.
He said it was important that the Cyprus government had stressed that relationships with such regional partners were not directed “against anyone else”.
“This is especially important,” said Koenig. “The United States has many allies and partners in this region, and it is important to us that they work together toward our common objectives of stability, security and prosperity.”
He said he was under no illusion in terms of the Cyprus issue that it would be an easy task but it was, even in such difficult times, still possible and necessary to focus on the big picture and find a constructive way to discuss and resolve differences.
“The two communities should be prepared to engage with each other on all issues of importance for the future that they will build together after a settlement,” the ambassador said, calling on both sides to work with the UN to resume talks “as soon as possible”.
“This is a moment when a united Cyprus would be a much stronger partner in facing global threats, a much more attractive place to invest, a much more stable hub in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Koenig said.
By virtue of its location and strong ties throughout the region, Cyprus served as an important connection between the EU and many neighboring countries.
As far as transatlantic investment was concerned, Koenig estimated that over the last 18 months, US businesses and investors had put just over a half a billion dollars’ worth of investment into Cyprus’ banks, businesses and offshore energy businesses, representing a nearly fivefold increase in less than two years. He added that every month the Nicosia embassy was contacted by a new American company looking to learn more about opportunities Cyprus.
He said the discovery of hydrocarbons in Israel and Cyprus, as well as potential offshore discoveries in Lebanon, were transforming countries that were previously energy importers into energy exporters.
“We should not lose sight of it even when tensions are running high, but instead redouble efforts to exploit the dynamism that energy cooperation can impart toward resolution of long-standing disputes,” Koenig said.