Cyprus is ramping up efforts to become a regional energy player with 2018 seen as a critical year in deciding where it stands, Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini.
“All that I would like to say publicly is that 2018 will be a decisive year for the future of the Republic of Cyprus’ energy planning, its energy perspective, and that of the East Mediterranean in general,” said Christodoulides.
He said despite the negative development of Turkish naval ships blocking an ENI drill rig in February from accessing Cyprus’ EEZ, Nicosia’s energy plans continue to “run smoothly”.
"2018 will be a decisive year for the future of the Republic of Cyprus’ energy planning, its energy perspective"
“We are in constant contact and consultation with all the companies involved but also with the countries of the region as well as with EU Member States…we are in talks with Egypt and Israel, we have had related discussions with the governments of the USA, France, Italy , the European Commission.”
The foreign minister, a career diplomat and government spokesman before taking office in March, said Cyprus can be a bridge between countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the EU.
“It was a conscious effort, immediately after taking office, to visit all neighbouring states to confirm and strengthen the view that Cyprus holds excellent relations with neighbouring states and can indeed be a bridge between the area and the European Union.”
Peace talks must resume
Christodoulides said despite last year’s disappointment following the collapse of the Cyprus Conference, the peace process must continue.
“Our position is crystal clear. The current state of affairs cannot be part of the solution in the Cyprus problem.”
He admitted there was great disappointment primarily because there was “promising” and significant progress for the first time and the stakes were high.
“We have to make good use of all the things that were achieved for the first time, among them, the fact that the substance of the Cyprus problem became clear and the issue of Security and Guarantees was discussed for the first time… and many other important issues.”
He added that the goal is for the negotiations to resume with the real prospect of a positive outcome.
But Christodoulides said there were additional issues under consideration, which need to be played out in real time, such as the upcoming Turkish elections.
“The fact that Turkey will hold elections early, possibly, we will have to wait and see whether this will work in practice to support the efforts in a Cyprus settlement and also put an end to Turkey’s destabilising behaviour.”
The minister also addressed some political estimates regarding the Turkish elections, saying they may have merit.
“Ankara’s stance on the Cyprus problem but also its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, Syria, and elsewhere, might not have been unconnected with pre-election campaign interests for Mr. Erdogan.”
Christodoulides said a possible appointment of a UN envoy to Cyprus that would sound out the possibility of a new peace push could also help clarify Ankara’s real goals, citing Turkish officials’ own public statements of a “Plan B” in the Crans-Montana aftermath.
Tripartite in Nicosia
Ahead of a May 8 tripartite meeting in Nicosia between Cyprus, Greece, and Israel, Christodoulides emphasised his strong commitment to the EastMed pipeline, saying that energy will be a top issue on the agenda.
But he also said the meeting is tasked with extending the strong relations between the countries into other areas, such as at the levels of people and society.
“The main theme of the meeting is Building Bridges Between People.”
He said there was a desire by Anastasiades, Tsipras and Netanyahu to turn “the strong bonds and cooperation at the government level into fields that have to do with society in a more direct way and create such foundations for cooperation among peoples of third countries.”
The foreign minister also laid out another vision regarding tripartite meetings, expressing the hope that such actions can help parties meet challenges and opportunities and even form common institutions.
“This last idea is clearly ambitious and is associated with the possibility of institutional ties between countries in the area. Such as the coal and steel organisation that brought European states closer together and formed the basis of the EU we have today.”
“Why not the same for energy, security and defence, and so much more,” he added.
Read the full interview in Sunday's Greek language edition of Kathimerini Cyprus