US State Secretary Antony Blinken has appointed a businessman and former lobbyist as energy security envoy, signaling a new strategic focus in Washington in the aftermath of thorny geopolitics over Nord Stream 2 and unresolved issues relating to the eastern Mediterranean.
Blinken wrote on Twitter that he was appointing Amos Hochstein as the Senior Advisor for Energy Security, adding the Israel-born former advisor was “uniquely suited to support the development and implementation of an integrated strategy to strengthen global energy security.”
Cypriot minister tweets "great news"
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides took to Twitter to welcome the appointment, saying Nicosia “looked look forward to engaging with you in your new important role, towards our common vision for a peaceful and prosperous EastMed.”
“Great news of the appointment of a diplomat, all too familiar with the EastMed region, its challenges and its potential,” Christodoulides wrote.
Hochstein has been a staunch supporter of regulatory certainty in the eastern Mediterranean, saying lack of regulatory clarity and stability cost were holding development back.
But the news came as a surprise to critics and industry experts.
According to American news website Axios, Hochstein, whose appointment bypassed congressional approval, would be charged with implementing a US-Germany deal allowing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be completed.
Media pundits pointed out that Hochstein had been a strong voice against Nord Stream 2, a deal now front-and-center for its implementation that allows Russia to bypass Ukraine and deliver gas directly to the heart of Europe.
Five years ago, while Hochstein was working as international energy coordinator at the State Department, he said he believed Mediterranean countries could “save billions if they share infrastructure and market access.”
“If they don’t share those resources, most of the gas will have to stay in the ground,” he told congress in 2016, adding that “the market is still looking for validation that historic political differences will not get in the way of investment and development” in reference to the eastern Mediterranean.
Industry experts said an energy map of the eastern Mediterranean drawn by the state department and attributed to Hochstein had been delivered to countries including Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon
“The future that I see for the region includes new and old pipelines connecting Israel’s offshore resources to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority. It includes Cypriot gas exports to Turkey and/or Egypt, allowing Egypt to satisfy its own power needs and export surpluses to international markets via existing, but now idle, LNG terminals,” Hochstein said.
The Republic of Cyprus, along with Greece and Israel, has been pushing forward on an agreement for an EastMed pipeline that exclude Turkey, but Nicosia has officially stated no countries were being excluded from deals as long as international law was being respected.
Previous reports said Hochstein, a former close advisor to Biden, was being considered by the US president as far back as April, before the commander-in-chief made the decision to waive sanctions and allow the pipeline to move forward in the interests of improving the US relationship with Germany.
But it was unclear whether Biden was signaling a change in policy.
The Times of Israel cited a source, who had worked with Hochstein on energy in the past, saying “the appointment was an attempt by the Washington administration to use his hawkish credentials to make the [US-German] deal more acceptable.”
Industry experts said an energy map of the eastern Mediterranean drawn by the state department and attributed to Hochstein had been delivered to countries including Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, and Lebanon.
The map was presented during the peace process between 2015-2017, while new developments on the Cyprus Problem negotiations led to a total collapse with many unknowns ahead.
Last year Hochstein said he was stepping down from the supervisory board of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company amid concerns about a slowdown in reform and creeping corruption.