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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cyprus before historic decisions for its future

(Famagusta Gazette) - Cyprus will have to take momentous decisions and take bold steps forward, which will potentially mark its course in history and reshape its strategic importance, Minister of Foreign Affairs Erato Kozakou Markoullis said in a speech titled “Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean: Strategic Location, Strategic opportunities” at the Director’s Forum of Woodrow Wilson Center.

Markoullis pointed out that developments in Cyprus will have an effect on its neighbourhood, since Cyprus is now in an unusual position of having greater say in its future, and being in a position to effect change.

“Indeed, a number of important factors appear to be coming together, and if this confluence, this convergence of interests is harnessed properly, the opportunities, for Cyprus, its partners and its neighbours can have enormously positive results”, she said.

Referring to the start of drilling operations by a Republic of Cyprus licensed US company, Noble Energy, within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, in search of natural gas deposits, she said that initial findings have already shown positive results ranging between 3-9 Tcf of natural gas and official estimates are expected by the end of the year.

As regards developments in the discovery of hydrocarbon reservoirs in Israel and Cyprus, she said that they are significant on a number of levels.

“The positive results of the drilling in Israel and the preliminary results in Cyprus prove beyond doubt that the geological surveys and estimates on the presence of large quantities of hydrocarbons in the Levant basin, but also in the area south of Cyprus, have merit”, she said. She added that from an economic point of view the significance is great, since it will imply greater interest by other international companies for the second round of bidding to gain licenses for exploratory drilling in other parts of the Cypriot EEZ, and will also serve as a catalyst for financial investments in Cyprus.

Secondly, she said that once natural gas and possibly also oil are found in quantities and in quality that justifies further investments, this will lead to job creation, something that will also involve directly the economies of Cyprus' neighbours.

Markoullis also said that the momentum that will be created by the sort of investment in infrastructure and financial structures for the servicing of the energy industry, will serve as a catalyst towards greater cooperation among neighbours.

“The possibility of joint exploitation between the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the launching of joint projects, particularly in areas where the natural gas or petroleum fields fall across the line separating EEZ, not only does exist, but we are promoting this cooperation through Framework Agreements we are currently negotiating with Israel, Egypt and Lebanon concerning the Joint Development and Exploitation of Cross Median Line Hydrocarbons Reservoirs”, she said, adding that this kind of cooperation could become an indispensable tool that has the potential to change the whole political and economic scene of the entire region.

The Cypriot Minister has also expressed the position that hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean will contribute towards greater energy security for Europe.

“As a member state of the EU we have a stake in its success. We believe that potential deposits of hydrocarbons in our Exclusive Economic Zone will benefit Europe, its economy, and by extension its international standing. Therefore, we look forward to cooperating closely with our European partners and linking them to our partners in our immediate neighbourhood, and possibly beyond, in establishing greater energy security, and by extension, broader economic security and stability”, she said.

Referring to bilateral agreements Cyprus has signed with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel for delineating of their Exclusive Economic Zones, she said that these agreements have introduced a new stabilizing dimension to the politics of the region.

The Foreign Minister pointed out that a Cyprus which is a member state of the European Union, a responsible actor within the international system, and which has good and constructive relations with its neighbours can serve as a catalyst for cooperation on the regional level and also offer the necessary platform for greater peace, stability and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Referring to Turkey’s attitude and behaviour towards Cyprus, she said that the start of exploratory drilling in the Cypriot EEZ sparked a tirade of anger on the part of Turkish leaders, at the highest levels. Markoullis explained that the decisions and actions of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources within its EEZ are entirely legal falling within its sovereign rights as recognised by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all EU member states and by all Permanent and Non-Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.

She referred to “blatant threats of violence and saber rattling which involved Turkish warships and aircraft, air and naval exercises in the sea south of Cyprus, and illegal seismic surveying and seabed mapping, carried out by ships on behalf of Turkey inside our EEZ in blatant violation of Cypriot sovereign rights”. She also mentioned the signing by Turkey of an agreement with its proxy in the occupied part of Cyprus, an agreement which seeks to create the semblance of legality in what cannot possibly be legal.

“But Turkey does not stop there. Its newfound confidence, based on real or imagined successes, its economic growth, and, I am sorry to say, the unbridled support it receives in some countries, has given rise to a neighbourhood bully”, she said.

Markoullis said that Turkey cares very little about the Turkish Cypriots and a great deal about its own selfish interests.

“It is even making claims for an imagined EEZ of its own which in some places borders on the EEZ of Egypt! It would be no exaggeration to say that Turkey is not just violating international law; it is following a conduct in international relations which belongs to another century, before international law was put in place to guide relations between states”, she said.

Reminding Cyprus’ support for Turkey’s European aspirations, she expressed her disappointment when seeing Turkey failing to progress along its European path.

“The negotiation process is not progressing; in fact it has remained frozen, because Turkey is failing to meet the European standards and its commitments to the European Union. It is failing because, like in international law, Turkey wants to dictate its own terms to the European Union”, she said.

“We are hopeful that the Turkey, which aspires to be recognised as a regional if not a global leader, will rise to the occasion. We are hopeful that the Turkish leadership will put aside polemics, diatribes, threats, and adopt a more mild and statesmanlike tone and attitude. We believe that there is room for Turkey to cooperate with its neighbours, out of genuine desire toward common ground and mutual benefit. To do that, Turkey must meet its obligations vis a vis the European Union. It must meet its obligations in terms of international law”, she said.

Referring to the UN-led direct talks for a solution in Cyprus, she said that after three years and 120 direct meetings between the two leaders, there is still no substantive progress on the most crucial issues of the executive powers in the governance chapter, as well as in the refugee, property, territory and citizenship chapters.

She explained that the main stumbling block has all along been the position maintained by the Turkish Cypriot side, fully supported by the Turkish Government, that the goal should not be a federation, in the form of one unbreakable federal state, with a single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship, as has been agreed and endorsed by the international community, but a confederal arrangement between two separate states with separate sovereignties.

“Despite the difficulties and obstacles on the way, we continue to persist in our efforts to reunify our country in the form of a bizonal, bicommunal federation”, she said.

She added that the developments from the hydrocarbon discoveries in Cyprus’ EEZ, the prospects for prosperity for all Cypriots once reunification is achieved appear tremendous and should work as a catalyst in the direction of moving forward the talks towards reaching an agreement. She expressed the hope that Turkey, which could significantly benefit from a likely cooperation with a reunited Cyprus in all sectors, but primarily in the energy field, will grasp the message of peace, stability and prosperity.

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