Cyprus and the Future of East Mediterranean Security and Co-Operation – Nikos Christodoulides, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, January 23, 2019
Cyprus and the Future of East Mediterranean Security and Co-Operation
H.E. Mr. Nikos Christodoulides
Minister of Foreign Affairs Republic of Cyprus
23rd January 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, let me begin my presentation by extending my sincere thanks to the European Rim Policy and Investment Council for organizing today’s discussion and for inviting me to share my thoughts on a topic that lies at the heart of the Cyprus foreign policy and which permeates the core pillars of how we envision Cyprus foreign policy footprint in our immediate region and our neighborhood.
The title of my intervention, “Cyprus and the Future of Eastern Mediterranean Security and Co-Operation,” masterly encapsulates some of the core elements of Cyprus’ efforts in recent years in what is not only our region, the Eastern Mediterranean, but also a region where developments have proven to have a deep, long-standing impact in Europe and beyond. And so with this indisputable assessment in mind and being an inherent part of the region we have set in the recent years on a journey to fully utilize our role as a country that lies at the crossroads of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, at the southeastern most state of the European Union with historically excellent relations with its neighboring states, Cyprus has embarked on constructing a new narrative for the Eastern Mediterranean bolstering its role as a geostrategical bridge. A narrative that has as its principal tenets respect for international legality, promotion of good neighborly relations, fostering of cooperation and the creation of synergies as a vehicle for promoting security and prosperity.
To move beyond conflict that for so long became a trademark characteristic of our region, our premise is that we must bolster cooperation and collaboration. Prior to outline our efforts to create this new narrative for the Eastern Mediterranean, I would like to express my appreciation to ERPIC for its exceptional work including through its programs on regional security, democracy and rule of law, and energy. When the organization was founded in 1999, the Eastern Mediterranean was not so much on the headlines as it is now. Very few I believe were able to identify or predict that this area immediately adjacent to the European Union will have such an effect on Europe. We see that effect today with the humanitarian migration crisis, the root causes of which are to be found in this region. A crisis that has had a profound effect on Europe threatening even its cohesion.
We see that effect also with the rise of violent extremism, which bruise in the region, but whose effects are felt beyond, including in Europe. At the same time, even fewer, and ERPIC was among them, could identify beyond its great challenges the region’s remarkable potential.
The discovery of substantial energy deposits in the region that could have become a trigger for cooperation between the neighboring countries are testament to this potential and to the transformative effects energy could have, not only for the countries in the region, but also in advancing Europe’s energy security goals through diversification of routes and resources.
Dear friends, in discussing the future of the Eastern Mediterranean security and cooperation in Cyprus’ role and perspective on this, I would like briefly to outline the three core pillars of Cyprus’ foreign policy and how this also became a vehicle for building a more secure future for the region. Our goal over the last years has been to move beyond a monothematic foreign policy, projecting into a diverse polythematic one, utilizing Cyprus unique characteristics, amplifying its geostrategic value and promoting a vision for our region that resonates well beyond its boundaries.
The rationale is that the benefits accrued from this tragedy would also have a beneficial ripple effect in our efforts to achieve our number one priority at the epicenter of our foreign policy, which is through Cyprus and its people, and allow them to reach their full potential which the current division hinders. The multi-faceted foreign policy I have referred to it is anchored on three main pillars.
The first pillar is the enhancement and expansion of our relations with countries in our immediate region: the Middle East and the Gulf. At the core of this first pillar is geography and the unique geographical position of Cyprus on the map that I have referred to at the outset. In the last few years our determine effort has focused on reversing history’s narrative and transforming our geographical position into a blessing, placing it at the forefront of our geostrategic value. Building on the traditionally excellent relations with our neighbors, we have worked methodically in deepening our ties and building a cooperation that yields tangible results that are beneficial not only for the countries involved, but also for the region as a whole.
Indicative of this priority is the fact that within the first month of assuming office I visited Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan as well as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Last month I visited Kuwait and there are upcoming visits plan in the coming weeks for Bahrain and Oman. Beyond the bilateral value of this effort our actions are underpinned by a long-term vision for our region that we believe is important also for Europe. At the time of shifting of powers in the region, we see significant added value in increasing EU involvement in the region. We believe that our vision for the Eastern Mediterranean is relevant because the region is highly relevant. We keep making the case at every opportunity in Brussels that unless Europe turns its attention to this region it cannot effectively come out of the challenging injection it is in currently. We believe that Cyprus, a member state of the Union, at the same time a country of the region with historically close and excellent bilateral relations with its neighbors and a deep understanding of the dynamic of the region can play a catalytic role in this direction. We are investing political and diplomatic capital in the region because we believe in the region’s increasing geostrategic importance which relates not only to its challenges, but also to the promises it holds.
The Middle East and Gulf region is witnessing the remarkable demographic and social change. The shift in global economic power that we have been witnessing has in fact placed the Middle East firmly in the middle of the world’s fastest-growing markets and at the heart of fast-growing trade flows. I refer to energy in my introduction precisely because it illustrates the potential of the region. According to relevant studies, the Eastern Mediterranean region holds enormous quantities of natural gas and oil. In fact, the total quantities of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean are estimated to be 9700 billion cubic meters (BCM). So far, approximately 2800 BCM have been discovered in the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus, Egypt and Israel. the presence of energy giants in the region, such as EXXON MOBIL, ENI, TOTAL, NOBLE, SHELL are proof of this potential. Our viewpoint is that hydrocarbons can become the new coal and steel in a new regional context, a tool for cooperation and synergies that will contribute in meeting the energy security needs of the region and that of the European Union, and gradually contribute to create stability in relations among neighboring countries and promote security and peace. Having realized the energy potential, we embarked in negotiations that led to the conclusion of delimitation agreements with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. The delimitation of our seas has created a new regional dynamic and a new diplomatic framework. The trilateral cooperation mechanisms we have established were in fact triggered by the energy developments in our region with the realization that these developments have the potential of also reshaping the political map of the region. Working closely with Greece and others in the region, such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus has created this innovative cooperation fora that are arguably one of the most successful additions to Cyprus foreign policy footprint in a manifestation of our strategy to create synergies and forge closer cooperation with modern countries in the region in a broad range of areas, from political and economic cooperation to security, energy, education, innovation and agriculture.
The central premise of the trilateral cooperation is that they have a positive agenda and are an instrument for promoting cooperation. They are neither exclusionary nor exclusive, nor are they directed against another country. Moreover, in terms of thematic they constantly evolve in areas where there is a comparative advantage, including broadening the trilateral format to bringing in additional partners in specific fields. For example, Cyprus, Greece and Israel have expanded their talks to include Italy and the European Commission in our discussion of cooperation on energy-related issues. At the latest trilateral with Israel we finalized the text of the intergovernmental agreement between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Italy on the East Med pipeline. We are also currently in discussions with France on the creation of a new cooperation formation in the region with the participation of Cyprus, Egypt and Greece, including in the field of security. Moreover, we are exploring the possibility of having a quadrilateral thematic ministerial meeting in 2019 with the United States, specifically on issues of energy and security.
The fact that the trilateral mechanisms have attracted the interest of other countries is a recognition of their success and of the growing understanding that this form of regional cooperation contributes to collective efforts to address challenges. The recent decision of the Council of Ministers to create a Permanent Secretariat in Nicosia for the trilaterals will not only solidify the progress achieved, but will also create additional momentum going ahead. It could also be a step along the path of implementing a long term – very long, we hope short – vision we have for our region which is the formation of a regional organization for cooperation and security.
The second pillar of Cyprus foreign policy is a more active involvement of Cyprus within the European Union beyond issues that directly touch upon the Cyprus problem or Turkey, which for a long time following our accession to the European Union in 2004 was the case. We have worked methodically to build our voice in Brussels on an array of issues where Cyprus has a strong added value. Take, for example, issues relating to our region. Syria is only 98 kilometers from Cyprus, Lebanon 150 kilometers, Israel less than 250 kilometers, and Egypt less than 350 kilometers. Cyprus has a deep understanding of the way countries in the region operate, how to get messages across effectively. Countries in the region often react to what they see as a lack of understanding by the European Union of the complexities of the region and the dynamics within their countries. Cyprus is seen as a credible, trustworthy, reliable child of communication between the European Union and the countries in the region, and this has been increasingly recognized. it was within this context, for example, that we were insisting in Brussels for the need to organize an EU-Arab League summit and we are glad that the summit will finally take place in the very near future. Indicative of the focus we are placing on building an active involvement within the European Union is the decision to form a permanent Secretariat on EU affairs in charge of horizontal cooperation within the government on the whole range of EU issues, formulating positions and building a more effective and proactive participation for Cyprus in Brussels. A relevant proposal would be submitted to the Council of Ministers in the coming two weeks. Furthermore, next week Cyprus will be hosting for the first time the summit of the southern European Union countries – the fifth heads of state and governments meeting of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. This is yet another indication of our efforts for active participation in the Union delivering. The forum of the southern European Union countries who very much share a common vision and commitment to a strong and united Europe, particularly at these challenging times, will send a message on the importance of solidarity and collective response.
Dear friends, the third pillar of our foreign policy relates to the strengthening of relations with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as with key players in the international arena, such as Japan and India. So far as the five permanent members of the Security Council are concerned, we have worked in building our relationship beyond the remit of the discussion of the Cyprus problem at the Security Council, creating an evolving and continuously advancing cooperation in all fields. With the United States for example at the bilateral and regional level relations have grown and there is an increasing cooperation on a number of areas, always based on a positive agenda. With Japan over the last year remarkable progress in bilateral relations has been achieved. Japan has opened an embassy in Cyprus and Cyprus is a reciprocating by opening a resident embassy in Tokyo. During the visit of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Cyprus in the summer for the opening of the Japanese embassy, a memorandum of understanding was signed for civilian evacuation and a commitment was made for tangible deepening of our ties. I responded to the invitation by the Japanese government immediately thereafter and I paid an official visit to Japan at the end of October. The consultations were eye-opening on the commonalities between Cyprus and Japan’s foreign policy. The commitment on rule-based international order, the importance of promoting stability and security in the Eastern Mediterranean are also a priority of Japanese foreign policy. The preparation of visits to both Russia, for the second time, and China, countries with whom Cyprus has a long history of excellent bilateral relations that are constantly growing is underway and are expected to take place in the immediate coming month.
Dear friends, my effort has been to make the case of how Cyprus has embarked on an effort to create a new narrative for the region and a major part of that equation is acting as an anchor of stability. Indispensable component of this role is our active role in the area of regional security and countering terrorism. For Cyprus this is a collaborative multilateral effort. To this end we are in close dialogue and collaboration with our regional neighbors, all recognizing for example that the nature of 21st century security threats is international and fluid. To this effect Cyprus is an active member of a number of international efforts including the coalition against the Islamic State and the Aqaba Process. We have actively in cooperation with some of our European allies provided military assistance and also provided non-military support to the European Union efforts in the Sahel. Cyprus has also actively contributed to the collective efforts of the international community for the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal following the United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 serving as the host country of the support base of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – UN Joint Mission, and offering its infrastructure and facilities to other states which participated in the multilateral mission. Moreover, Cyprus facilitates the deployment of United Nations interim force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, by hosting its maritime task force whose primary task is the preservation of peace and security of the shores of Lebanon in a highly volatile region. Cyprus supports Lebanon’s efforts to confront the immense challenges faced with, among others, through a productive military bilateral cooperation. in this regard since 2015 Cyprus has donated arms and ammunition to the Lebanese Armed Forces and has offered technical assistance and training to its officers in the context of supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability, security, and state institutions. Cyprus has also contributed financially, through the European Union, to Lebanon and Jordan, to support their efforts to address the refugee crisis.
dear friends, I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation of how the ultimate goal remains reunifying Cyprus and that the implementation of a multi-faceted foreign policy that amplifies the role of Cyprus in the region ultimately has a positive ripple effect on our efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. I believe you will agree with me that to discuss a potential of the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus role in the region without referring to the Cyprus problem and the impact that ending the 44 year division and military occupation through a viable and functional comprehensive settlement will have on the region, will be telling an incomplete story. A viable, functional solution of the Cyprus problem which is a feasible goal would not only amplify Cyprus bridging capacity but will also mark a paradigm shift in bringing about peace and stability in the region. This will certainly serve the interests of our key partners, of the European Union, and certainly of the region. It goes without saying that for the good of regional stability Cyprus needs to remain a truly independent state without third party interference so as to continue to function as a reliable pattern and security provider in the region. The sovereignty, dependence and territorial integrity of the reunited Cyprus through a comprehensive settlement that is fully in line with international and EU law is crucial and non-negotiable. Let me conclude by thanking you once again for your initiative and for offering me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and gain an insight into your perspective and expert assessments. And I very much look forward to interacting with you and answering any questions that you may have. Thank you very much.