Cyprus Mail

President and von der Leyen to go on joint visit to Lebanon to discuss migration issue

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President Nikos Christodoulides

President Nikos Christodoulides will pay an official visit to Lebanon together with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen on May 2, the president said on Wednesday, arriving at the European Council meeting in Brussels.

The first day of the summit was due to focus on the situation in the Middle East and on a strategic discussion on EU – Turkey relations.

Regarding Lebanon, Christodoulides said that the situation in the country and the need for support would be discussed in the context of the situation in the Middle East, while he added that in consultation with other member states, Cyprus will raise the issue of the need to reassess certain areas of Syria as safe in the context of immigration.

On EU – Turkey relations, the president added that this discussion was something that Cyprus had been pursuing for a long time, and that the timing was important given the efforts being made by the UN Secretary General to resume Cyprus reunification talks.

He said that all leaders understand the importance that progress on the Cyprus problem has for EU – Turkey relations to move forward and underlined that the aim is to send a positive message to Turkey, but that progress depends on Turkey’s behaviour at the negotiating table.

Speaking about the Middle East, Christodoulides expressed the hope “that there will be no further deterioration of the situation, which affects not only neighbouring states, not only the Republic of Cyprus, but the entire European Union”. In this context, he said, the need to support Lebanon will also be discussed.

“The President of the Commission has just informed me that we will jointly visit Lebanon on 2 May,” he added.

He said that “in the context of discussing the consequences of the situation in the Middle East, we must also touch on the issue of migration”.

Cyprus, he continued, “together with other member states” will “raise the issue of reassessment, to start the discussion on reassessing certain areas as safe areas within Syria.”

Regarding whether a comprehensive support package for Lebanon is being discussed, Christodoulides said that this is something he has discussed with Von der Leyen during their recent meeting in Athens, and that he then went to Lebanon where he briefed the government of the country.

He added that on Friday the French President will host the Lebanese Prime Minister and the head of the country’s armed forces in Paris, “in an effort that is being made consciously by the European Union to address the challenges that Lebanon faces and, by extension, any problems, such as migration, that the Republic of Cyprus has to deal with”.

This discussion, he reiterated, is in “direct connection” with “the need to start the discussion to define some areas in Syria, on the basis of real facts, as safe areas”.

Commenting more broadly on the ongoing debate on the Middle East and the EU’s call for restraint by all parties, the President stressed that “it is an issue where we cannot have different approaches”.

Particularly on the Middle East, the President stressed that “any actions to further escalate the crisis should be avoided”, and that a way should be found to restart the negotiation process.

Finally, with regard to humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip, he expressed the hope that “soon, with the completion of the work on the part of the US government in Gaza, the provision of humanitarian assistance through the initiative of the Republic of Cyprus will resume”.

Speaking about relations between the EU and Turkey, Christodoulides said that he considers it “particularly important” that the leaders “will finally have a strategic discussion on the European Union’s relations with Turkey”.

“It was something we have been seeking for a long time,” he noted, adding that “the timing is important, taking into account the UN Secretary General’s efforts to resume talks.”

“The Cyprus problem is linked to the progress of EU – Turkey relations,” he continued, expressing the hope that “through the discussion, the positive stance on the part of the European Union of member states, including our own positive stance will be conveyed.”

“A positive stance, the development of which will depend exclusively on progress on the Cyprus issue, and I am glad that there is a specific reference in the draft to the Cyprus issue, to the issue of the resumption of talks,” he added.

The president said that following the appointment of the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy “there is mobility” and that Maria Angela Holguin will visit EU states as well as Brussels and then will be in Cyprus. “We have already arranged two meetings with Ms. Holguin” he added.

Responding to a question whether the rest of the EU countries agree on the need to link EU – Turkey relations with the Cyprus problem, Christodoulides said that “from the discussion that took place, everyone understands the importance of progress on the Cyprus problem in order for EU – Turkey relations to move forward.”

He noted that discussions on the conclusions were on a third or fourth draft “which will come before the heads of state, and we will do everything possible to achieve a positive outcome”.

“Whether Turkey wants it or not, EU – Turkey relations also pass through the Cyprus problem,” he stressed. “We are here to give, I repeat from the beginning, a positive message, the progress of which depends on Turkey’s behaviour at the negotiating table.”

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