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Netanyahu due in Cyprus on Tuesday (Update 2)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives here on Tuesday on a one-day visit during which he will discuss energy and economic cooperation with his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades.

The Israeli leader will be accompanied by his energy minister Yuval Steinitz and other state officials.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Monday that regional issues, security and the economy will also be discussed.

No agreements are expected to be signed, he added, but the two leaders would be giving a “political push” to a number of issues of common interest they had discussed in June in Jerusalem, during Anastasiades’ official visit there.

The role Cyprus could play in the eastern Mediterranean would be on the agenda of the talks, Christodoulides told the state broadcaster.

He said the President is expected to speak on the phone with the leaders of Egypt and Palestine, and with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on Tuesday afternoon. Tusk is expected to visit the region in September or October, reports said.

The Israeli prime minister will be spending just a few hours on the island, arriving at the Presidential Palace around noon.

A one-on-one meeting with Anastasiades will be followed by statements to the media. The two leaders would not be taking any questions, an official announcement said.

The President will next host a lunch for his guest, after which Netanyahu departs.

Police said security would be tight during the visit, and that certain roads in Larnaca and Nicosia would be closed. Motorists are advised to comply with traffic instructions.

Back in June, Cyprus and Israel launched a ‘strategic’ dialogue on energy, with the initial aim of swiftly concluding a unitisation agreement – the joint exploitation of cross-border gas reserves – as well as exploring ways to sell gas-powered electricity from Israel to Europe via Cyprus and Greece.

It’s understood that meetings on a technocratic level aimed at sealing a unitisation deal have been held since.

During Anastasiades’ stay in Jerusalem, sources had told the Cyprus Mail that Nicosia proposed the parallel development of gas infrastructure by the two countries so as to create economies of scale.

Assuming agreements were concluded to sell Israeli and Cypriot gas to Egypt, the idea was that – instead of gas being sent separately from Israel’s Leviathan reservoir and Cyprus’ Aphrodite field directly to Egypt – the two pipelines could merge once they reach the edge of Egypt’s EEZ. This would involve sharing the cost of a large part of the gas infrastructure investment needed to export to Egypt.

Tel Aviv was at the time said to be ready to move forward on the proposal “in theory,” but first had to resolve the issue of an anti-trust ruling preventing Noble Energy and Delek Group from developing their gas field projects in Israel.

According to the Globes news outlet, this Wednesday the Israeli cabinet is scheduled to convene to deliberate on a proposed roadmap for the development of the country’s natural gas fields.

Should the roadmap garner the support of a majority, it would be raised to a vote at the Cabinet meeting, and might be brought to the Knesset floor the same day, before the chamber adjourns for its month-long summer recess.

The issue has turned politically contentious in Israel, after the government there recently revealed a compromise deal with the gas companies allowing them to develop their projects.

Despite Netanyahu’s short stay here, the two leaders might find time to discuss another foreign policy-level initiative devised by Anastasiades.

The President has sought to position Cyprus as a go-between, proposing to Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that they travel to Brussels to speak- probably separately – before EU leaders and lay out their respective positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Local reports said this could happen in October or November. If so, it would be the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to EU headquarters in Brussels in 20 years; the last to make such a visit was Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Relations between Israel and the EU have been tense over the past few years because of the stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians.

Also on the cards is a possible trilateral meeting of the heads of state of Cyprus, Israel and Greece – another idea pushed by Anastasiades – that could be held sometime in the autumn.

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Source: Cyprus News Agency

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