New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Ranking member of Senate’s Foreign Relation Committee Robert Menendez pushed hard U.S. Ambassador designate to Cyprus Judith Gail Garber to acknowledge whether there was an invasion to Cyprus and Turkey should withdraw its troops.
Replying to Menendez’s question during her confirmation hearing at the Foreign Relations Committee, last Thursday, Garber said that “in 1974, following these tragic events, United States supported UN General Assembly Resolution 3212. This calls for both sides to freely achieve a mutually accepted political settlement on the island. This led the United States for many years to support Cypriot-led, UN facilitated negotiations to reunite the island as a bi-zonal bi-communal federation. We seek to use language that enables the United States to play an effective role and we have played an effective role and help facilitating these discussions.”
Menendez thanked the Ambassador designate for an answer to a question he hasn’t posed.
“The question that I posed was not what we seek in a settlement. The question that I posed was whether or not Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus and are still there occupying northern Cyprus. If we cannot accept a factual reality then we are in trouble in terms to try to figure out how to move forward.”
The Democratic Senator from New Jersey went on asking Ms Garber if it is true that Turkish troops ultimately invaded Cyprus and are presently there.
In replying the nominee said that “the Turkish intervention on the island led to the tragic divisions that we have today. I think the issue of the Turkish troops is one of the most sensitive issues in the negotiations and one that will be part of the final settlement.”
Pushed even further by the Senator, Garber acknowledged that there are Turkish troops in northern Cyprus.
“I appreciate the nuances,” stated Menendez, “but there are just certain things that are just real. Turkish troops which were not existing prior to this time, invaded Northern Cyprus and have continued to be there; and makes it among the most militarized places in the world. This is a fact. .. I gather that you are constrained … but this always baffles me, in terms of not just recognizing simple facts.”
Asked by Senator Menendez whether she will work to insure access to Turkish military zones where missing Greek and Turkish Cypriot persons may be buried, Ms. Garber responded that, “the issue of the Missing Person is very important to the United States and if confirmed, I will work to ensure that the Committee on Missing Persons is able to have access to all burial sites and expeditiously conclude its work.”
Mentioning a previous reply of the Ambassador designate, Bob Menendez said he supports the lifting of the Arms Embargo against Cyprus. Replying to a question by Senator Tim Kaine on the Arms Embargo, Garber said one of the reason for these restriction is to avoid further militarization of the island.
“We are looking systematically to strengthen our security relationship with the Government of Cyprus; Cyprus has been a very good partner on counterterrorism, on border security as well as arms proliferation.”
Finally, on a question by Menendez on Cyprus’ EEZ, Judith Gail Garber said that the U.S. recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We believe that they should be shared equitably in the context of an overall settlement. The energy has the ability to promote greater regional cooperation and I believe the settlement will facilitate not only the development of these resources and their ability to work for the benefit of all Cypriots.”
In her written testimony, Judith Gail Garber said hydrocarbons have the potential, if managed correctly, to be a catalyst for increased cooperation, for enhanced regional stability and prosperity, and should serve as an incentive to a Cyprus settlement. She pledged, if her nomination is confirmed, to work to advance in Cyprus the fundamental US interest in a Europe whole, free, prosperous, and at peace.
“This is an important time for Cyprus, a country situated at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It is at this place that U.S. national interests in anchoring the Euro-Atlantic Alliance, securing the Eastern frontier, and stabilizing the South intersect.
Our commitment to encouraging the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities to forge a just and lasting settlement remains as resolute as ever“, she said.
She pledged to do all that she could, to support efforts by the leaders, by ordinary Cypriots, by the guarantor powers, and by the United Nations to reach the promise of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, pointing out that a reunified Cyprus would provide a more prosperous future for all Cypriots.
“Such an example would resonate well beyond the island, strengthening relations in all corners of the Eastern Mediterranean and throughout the world. It would also serve as an inspiration for others who wish to define a new future after a painful past“, she said.
Garber continued saying that the Republic of Cyprus is a valued friend and important strategic partner with whom the US cooperate on a range of priorities, including counterterrorism, maritime security, and law enforcement.
She added that Cyprus’ participation in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as well as its regional efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, demonstrate its commitment to international security.
“We are working to systematically strengthen our relations with the Republic of Cyprus, including in the areas of security cooperation and counterterrorism. If confirmed, I will continue this effort“, she said.
Referring to the discovery of natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, including in Cyprus’ offshore waters, she noted that this discovery has expanded possibilities for increasing regional energy security through diversification of resources, routes, and suppliers.
“We have emphasized our support of the Republic of Cyprus’ right to develop hydrocarbon resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone. We also believe the resources should be shared equitably between both communities within the context of an overall settlement. Hydrocarbons have the potential, if managed correctly, to be a catalyst for increased cooperation, for enhanced regional stability and prosperity, and should serve as an incentive to a Cyprus settlement. If confirmed, I would seek to build upon this potential“, Garber pointed out.
In her testimony, Garber said that Cyprus’ economy has proven to be resilient, with the help of an IMF program from 2013-2016, but added that additional reforms will be necessary to sustain future growth. According to Garber, Cyprus needs to modernize its foreclosure and bankruptcy laws, and accelerate efforts to reduce the high level of non-performing debt.
“It also needs to take more steps to combat the numerous challenges and risks posed by illicit Russian money in the economy. To sustain economic growth, Cyprus needs to control public sector spending, take steps to diversify the economy, and implement legal reforms to preserve confidence in the banking sector. We also pay close attention to the integrity of the Cypriot financial sector. We are encouraged by the progress local banks have made to boost regulations by culling suspicious accounts and hiring additional personnel to conduct due diligence. If confirmed, I will encourage the Republic of Cyprus to continue to strengthen its banking regulations and implement measures to limit the ease of shell company formation“, she said. Garber added that progress on a settlement could have a positive impact on the entire island’s economy and would create opportunities for greater trade and investment, bringing tangible benefits to all Cypriots.
Replying to a question by Senator Murphy who quoted a recent Wall Street Journal story that characterized Cyprus as “Russia’s favorite money heave”, Garber said “Russian money laundering is a serious concern; and the integrity of Cyprus’ financial system is a serious concern for the United States, so it’s not abused by bad actors. The Republic of Cyprus is cooperating with the U.S. Treasury on strengthening its anti-money laundering regime.”