By Elias Hazou
ISRAEL said yesterday it backs Cyprus’ offshore oil and gas search despite Turkish objections to the endeavour, with the government in Nicosia confirming that President Anastasiades will visit Israel next month, probably with energy issues high on the agenda.
“We respect the integrity of Cyprus. You have your exclusive rights to explore in your economic zone for gas or oil reserves and we think it’s unnecessary to add other tensions to the problems of the Middle East,” Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters in Nicosia.
“I hope that the EU has enough power to be a real mediator and to take a reasonable position regarding the gas dispute and exploration in (Cyprus’) economic zone,” he said.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides tweeted late yesterday that Anastasiades will be meeting Israeli Prime Minister on December 2, which follows the tripartite summit in Cairo this weekend with the Cypriot president, Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Lieberman, on a two-day visit to the island, was speaking at a joint news conference with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides following talks between delegations of the two nations at the foreign ministry.
The talks agenda included, among others, bilateral relations and ways to further strengthen them, the Cyprus issue, energy issues, the Middle East peace process and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean in the wake of Turkish actions in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as other regional and international issues of common interest.
Lieberman praised Nicosia for its “responsible” handling of the recent tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, after Turkey last month despatched a seismic research vessel into Cyprus’ EEZ. The gas row has triggered a suspension of peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Describing Cyprus-Israel cooperation as crucial, particularly amid the current turmoil in the region, Israel’s chief diplomat welcomed growing economic and trade ties between the two countries.
On energy cooperation, Lieberman said he hoped that by next year a strategic arrangement with “tangible results” would be in place in the context of an international consortium of energy corporations.
He did not elucidate, except to say this was an immense project with huge investments, but at the same time a politically sensitive issue.
“It is a very complex, very important project for all the countries in the region, not only for Israel and Cyprus,” he noted.
For his part, Kasoulides said the two sides reviewed the entire range of bilateral relations, with emphasis on security and energy.
“We agreed to expand bilateral dialogue to other areas, through close collaboration and coordination in diverse forums and international organisations,” he noted.
“Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as their impact on the security and stability of the region, underscore the need for cooperation among the moderate powers of the region to deal with regional challenges in the east Mediterranean.”
Kasoulides hosted a luncheon in honour of Lieberman, who later in the day was received by President Nicos Anastasiades.
Lieberman’s itinerary includes meetings with House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou and the chairman of the House foreign and European affairs committee Averof Neophytou.
The Israeli diplomat departs Cyprus later this evening.
Cyprus and particularly Israel have made big gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, some of which are adjacent to one another, and both countries are looking at ways to monetise the finds. Turkey, the largest energy consumer in the region, wants in on the shaping of regional dynamics, but the situation is complicated by the decades-long Cyprus dispute and Turkey’s non-recognition of Nicosia.
Israel, and more recently Cyprus, have entered talks with Egypt-based foreign corporations interested in gas supplies to LNG terminals there.