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Our View: More seriousness needed in approach to foreign policy

THE MUCH-TOUTED tripartite meeting with the ad hoc participation of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not live up to the big expectations created by the government and media.

At the “landmark gathering” the US “would show in practice its special interest in energy and security of the region and send messages to Turkey for respect of the sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic in its EEZ,” said one newspaper. Another, under the headline “Putting pressure on Ankara,” reported the tripartite meeting was expected to “give specific messages that would be a response to Turkish provocative actions in the area.” The common declaration was expected by Nicosia “to have explicit reference with regard to Turkey’s actions in the region.”

Meanwhile, government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said President Anastasiades would try to secure an expression of support by the US for the rights of Cyprus in its EEZ. This did not happen and the brief declaration that followed the summit must have been a disappointment to Nicosia as it was primarily an expression of platitudes. It said the leaders met to “affirm their shared commitment to promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean region” and “welcomed the recent natural gas finds” in the region and “its potential to contribute to energy security and diversification.” There was no explicit reference to Turkey in its key part, which said: “The leaders agreed to increase regional cooperation; support energy independence and security; and to defend against external malign influences in the Eastern Mediterranean and the broader Middle East.”

Inevitably, the following day, the “external malign influences” was taken to mean Turkey by the media and politicians, but this was not as clear as they made out. Turkey is part of the Eastern Mediterranean and could not be regarded as an “external influence”, however malign. It is more than likely that external influences could have been referring to Russia and Iran, which is the bugbear of Israel and the US. Even if relations with Turkey are not at their best it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, the US would sign a declaration referring to its Nato ally as a “malign influence,” in order to satisfy the government of a tiny country like Cyprus. One Cyprus newspaper interpreted this phrase as indicating the summit had “placed Turkey in an axis of evil,” which was not just far-fetched it was plain fantasy.

Asked on a radio show, the day after the meeting, how the US would protect the Cypriot EEZ, foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides, disingenuously said “those who are wondering can see the recent drilling by Exxon and the actions which were taken by the US, not only to face possible thoughts (I am not saying they existed) by third parties to avert this type of drilling.” This revealed what the government had been trying to communicate with leaks to the media before and after Wednesday’s summit in Jerusalem – that the US was providing some kind of covert protection. Nothing in the declaration or in the carefully-worded statement made by Pompeo ahead of the meeting gave the slightest indication this was the case. Pompeo did not even repeat the stock position of the State Department that the US recognised the right of the Cyprus Republic to develop the resources in its EEZ.

The president had failed to secure the expression of support by Pompeo for the rights of Cyprus, which Prodromou has said was the objective; he also failed to secure an explicit reference regarding Turkey’s actions. It did not achieve any of the stated objectives that were either announced or leaked to the media, betraying its amateurish, superficial approach to diplomacy, which it treats as nothing more than an excuse to win points domestically, as if this is an end in itself. From the glowing reports by the media, it appears to have succeeded in this respect, but to the US these antics would have suggested a lacks seriousness and raised questions over whether the Anastasiades government could be a reliable partner.

A serious government would have not built up a meeting that was just a sideshow in Pompeo’s tour of the Middle East which also took him to Kuwait and the Lebanon. He was in Israel in order to show the Trump administration’s support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the April 9 elections and not to attend the Israel-Greece-Cyprus tripartite meeting which was deemed so inconsequential, it did not even get a fleeting mention in the international press. The Anastasiades government should have been aware of this and been pragmatic enough to know what to expect from a meeting that had no real agenda. Only simpletons would have expected the US Secretary of State to undersign a declaration condemning or censuring Turkish actions in the Cypriot EEZ at a meeting he attended, primarily as a favour to Netanyahu.

Anastasiades and his foreign minister need to approach foreign relations with more level-headed seriousness if they want to enhance cooperation and build strong partnerships with big countries like the US. Treating foreign relations as an opportunity to score cheap points domestically is no way of achieving this.

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