Nicosia.- By Emilia Christofi/CNA
Diplomats from the embassies of the US, the British High Commission, Israel and Egypt, underlined the significance of their relations with Cyprus and expressed the hope that the island will be reunited in 2016. They were addressing the deliberations of the World Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) conference which opened in Nicosia in the framework of the 8th World Conference of the Organization of Young Overseas Cypriots (NEPOMAK) and the 26th meeting of the Central Council of the World Federation of Overseas Cypriots (POMAK) and PSEKA.
US Ambassador in Nicosia, Kathleen A. Doherty said that during the ten months she has been on the island, she has been “struck by the determination and the vision of the two leaders, who are striving to end the division of the island after 42 years”.
She said the leaders and their negotiating teams have made steady and significant progress.
Doherty gave an overview of the broader U.S. –Cyprus relationship that has evolved since Vice President Joe Biden`s visit two years ago, making the partnership with the Cyprus stronger and deeper.
On economy and business matters, she said Cyprus is out of its Troika programme, earlier than expected. The economy, she added, is growing, maybe 2.5 percent this year, and tourism is setting a record, with three million visitors expected this year. President Anastasiades and his economic team, she said, “deserve much credit for turning around Cyprus’ economy and creating new opportunities for businesses”.
She also outlined business opportunities on the island, adding that more and more U.S. investors and businesses are interested in Cyprus.
Regarding the energy sector, she reminded that the American company – Noble Energy – is leading the way in the development of resources in Cyprus` Exclusive Economic Zone. “And as we learned just yesterday, for the first time, an American energy major and the seventh largest company in the world – ExxonMobil – has placed a bid on one of Cyprus’ hydrocarbon blocks”.
She also said that the U.S. Embassy also has been very active in promoting Cyprus’ potential as a regional business hub.
On the ongoing negotiations, Doherty said “we should all be impressed and heartened by the vision and determination of the two leaders. This is truly a Cypriot-led, Cypriot-owned process – by and for Cypriots”. Noting that there has been significant progress in four of the six chapters of negotiations, as the leaders have stated, some differences remain. “The leaders have stated that they will soon start to discuss territory and security. They are making some tough decisions – for the well-being, stability, and security of both communities”.
The United States, she pledged, “is helping Cyprus as it prepares for a possible new future. Since 1974, the United States has provided assistance worth more than $500 million to Cyprus, helping to build people to people ties through bi-communal dialogue and exchange among civil society groups”.
A just solution, she added, “will also require closure for those who don’t know the fate of family members. The Committee of Missing Persons, which now has access to Turkish military sites, is doing critical work. The U.S. has contributed $800,000 to the CMP over the past ten years, including our most recent donation of $250,000 given in March”.
Doherty also said that a reunified Cyprus would have a federal system of government and her country is sharing information about the U.S. experience with federalism, explaining the relationship between the federal and state governments in the United States, and how a federal judiciary and federal law enforcement agencies work. Furthermore, she repeated the US strong support to the United Nations in its work facilitating the talks.
She also said the US uses every opportunity to emphasize with Turkey “our belief that a reunified Cyprus is in everyone’s best interest. The President reiterated that message to President Erdogan on the margins of the NATO Summit in July”.
On the events in Turkey she said the US remains engaged with Turkey and support the democratically-elected government there, but also have raised concerns that it not overreach in responding to the events of July 15.
She urged communities to hear more about the benefits of a reunified Cyprus. She also said that a regional energy potential will be unlocked in the event of a Cyprus settlement and with greater cooperation between Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, and all other players in the Eastern Mediterranean. “It is not hard to imagine that a reunified Cyprus would become a major commercial and business platform, with opportunities for all Cypriots, of all ages – but particularly for young people”.
Taking questions, regarding the US relationship with Turkey, Doherty said it is complicated and “it is getting more complicated by the day if not by the minute. The recent events, she said and even today the arrests of journalists is complicating our relationship. It`s very hard to say now what this mean for the bilateral relations.
To a question on the missing persons issue and how the US government can influence Ankara to give access to the archives, my government has raised the issue of the archives with Ankara and it is a current issue we are pushing very hard on it”.
Answering another question, Doherty said that in comparison to other negotiations, when the two sides begin talking taxation issues, etc, these are detailed levels never touched before – Turkey has more reasons to come to table
There are a lot of economic and political reasons why Turkey needs more likely to support a settlement than maybe in the previous years, she added.
British High Commission Second Secretary, Alexandra Needham, in her speech said we are acknowledging the hugely important role that the diaspora play in relations to the UK and Cyprus.
She said that in the last few years, we have seen particular and significant shift in relations between the two countries towards a more modern partnership.
She described 2016 as a landmark year for the UK due to the decision of the british public that the UK should leave the EU.
While the nature of our future relationship with the EU is still to be determined, I can assure you that the UK wants to maintain the strongest possible relationship with its European neighbours, including Cyprus, as well as other important partners. For the current being the UK will remain a member of the EU and there will be no change to the right of freedoms of these citizens in the UK or British citizens living in EU countries.
She said EU nationals make a huge contribution to our country and we expect the legal rights of Cypriots in the UK to be protected.
She also said we hope 2016 will be a landmark year for Cyprus as negotiations on a settlement of the Cyprus issue intensify. We believe a solution will bring clear economic and security benefits for Cypriots to Cypriots and to the region.
The UK therefore stands ready to do whatever it can to support the negotiation process. We welcome the progress in the negotiations, she said, adding that althorugh there are still challenges, we commend the fact that the hope and commitment of both sides continues and encourage them to seize this opportunity to bring lasting peace to Cyprus.
Illustrating why Cyprus matters to the UK, Needham said they estimate that 80 thousand British citizens live in Cyprus and over a million British citizens visit the island and it is growing every year.
We estimate that over a quarter of million Cypriots live in the UK and around 12 thousands Cypriots are students every year. And Cyprus is one of the UK`s top 50 export markets. All of the above point to a growing future for UK-Cypriot relations, she added.
Asked what is the British government doing to to put pressure on Turkey to come to the negotiating table with real deeds to solve the Cyprus issue, she said that Turkey wants a solution and that her country is working behind the scenes talking and it is the best method that we have in bringing Turkey to the table.
Answering a question, she said that there is no change in the status of the Sovereign Base Areas after the Brexit. She reminded the land offer to give back to the government give 48% within SBA, noting that “offer of land has not been taken off the table”, adding that discussions have not commenced on that issue. Needham said her country is ready to discuss that when time comes.
She also said they estimate that there are 65,000 Britons living in the government controlled areas and 15,000 in the occupied north. She also said she would have to look into reports that a member of the House of Lords is living in a home of a Greek Cypriot in the occupied areas.
Sami Abu Haneb, Deputy head of mission at the Israeli Embassy, said in the last few years both countries have been working and have achieved a strengthening of the bilateral relations, with the first steps towards enhancement being made with the previous government and later continued and further boosted by the present government of Cyprus.
The discovery of natural gas, he added, raised the prospect of developing a new partnership. “This fact, in combination with the common principles between our two countries, has opened up a new horizon in our relations”. Furthermore, he said the unprecedented level of strong relations the two countries enjoy nowadays, expand in a number of fields, apart from Politics and Energy while there is substantial cooperation involving Economy, Health, Culture, Education, Emergency, Defense, Tourism, Cyber and Innovation.
He said exports from Cyprus to Israel have been steadily increasing in the last few years, and have reached in 2015 101 million Euros, while the number of flights from Israel has come up to more than 70 per week. The number of Israeli tourists to Cyprus went up to 100,000 in 2015 and is expected to grow significantly in 2016.
The State of Israel, he added “highly appreciates and cherishes this friendship and cooperation with Cyprus, and we believe there is the potential for even closer ties, both at the level of ordinary people and also in the political field”.
The challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean region and more broadly, the Middle East, create prospects for the future and a fertile ground for even greater deepening of the relations between Israel and Cyprus, but also with other neighboring countries, he concluded.
Elsayed Nabil Morsi, First Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Egypt, told the conference that bilateral relations between Egypt and Cyprus have developed rapidly in the last three years and reached unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination on all levels.
In regard to the Cyprus problem, he said “Egypt continues to support the ongoing negotiations between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots aiming to reach a comprehensive and lasting solution that will reunify the island in accordance with international law and the relevant UN security council resolutions, a solution which will fulfil the aspirations of the Cypriot people.
Morsi also referred to the excellent bilateral relations between the two countries and the trilateral cooperation with Greece and Cyprus which serves as platform to address and tackle the challenges the region is facing. He said Egypt is working with the Cypriot and Greek authorities to prepare the next summit which will take place in Cairo before the end of 2016.