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US official’s visit to focus on energy and talks

US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland

US ASSISTANT Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland is due to visit the island sometime next week, according to reports.

Nuland, who will be conducting a tour of the region, will be discussing, among others, the ongoing Cyprus peace talks and energy issues.

According to daily Phileleftheros, while here the US official will also be meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

Nuland last paid a flash visit to Cyprus in February last year, days before the leaders of the two communities agreed a joint communique laying out the broad parameters of a settlement. It paved the way for the resumption of peace talks that had been stalled for two years.

The American role in nudging ahead the new peace drive has been tied to a broader US policy of encouraging a thawing of Turkish-Israeli relations. Israel is mulling how and where to export its excess natural gas reserves, with Cyprus and Turkey both being possible destinations.

A pipeline running through Cyprus’ maritime zone and onto mainland Turkey would be the cheapest export option for both Cypriot and Israeli gas, but the issue is fraught with regional politics.

In a statement, the Citizens Alliance warned of the ‘dangers’ of Nuland’s upcoming visit. The party said that given President Nicos Anastasiades’ ‘proclivity’ to grant concessions, and steady US support for Turkey, Anastasiades should be prepared to come under pressure during the US official’s stay here.

Although the government denies it, Nicosia has apparently agreed to suspend fresh gas and oil hunting while negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots are in progress. In return, Turkey has ceased incursions into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Meanwhile, recent news of a massive offshore find by Egypt, very close to the Cypriot EEZ, has likely put a further damper on Cyprus’ plans to sell natural gas to the neighbouring country.

Under pressure from political parties, the government – apparently counter-intuitively – insists that the Egyptian discovery is a positive development, as it highlights the rich presence of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean.

Last week the government spokesman spoke also of important energy-related developments to come soon that would “debunk the critics”.

Main opposition AKEL brushed aside the assurances, wondering how the absence of concrete action – such as new prospecting in Cypriot waters – can possibly upgrade Cyprus’ position.

The Citizens Alliance meanwhile called for the establishment of a National Energy Council, to be chaired by President Anastasiades, comprised by the ministers of energy, finance, defence and foreign affairs, and supported by teams of experts. The council would also include the parties.

The Greens proposed that Cyprus launch a new licensing round for the available offshore blocks.

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