Washington, DC.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
U.S. Officials addressing the 31st PSEKA Conference that took place in Washington D.C. from June 3-5, 2015, reassured delegates of the continuous interest of the Obama Administration to support the UN facilitated negotiations and help the parties to put an end to the 41 years-old division of Cyprus.
The administration officials also confirmed their will to take concrete steps in the context of the strategic partnership between the United States and Cyprus.
The Conference was attended by Greek-American and Cypriot-American leaders from across the United States representing major national and local organizations of the community, diplomats and other officials. Mayors of Turkish occupied Famagusta and Kythrea Alexis Galanos and Petros Kareklas, respectively, also attend the Conference. The Cypriot Government was represented by the Presidential Commissioner of Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou.
Opening the Conference, the President of the International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus” (PSEKA) Philip Christopher said that its aim is to build on the development of bilateral relations between Cyprus and the US and for Cyprus to become a close and reliable strategic partner of the US, something that will facilitate the settlement of the Cyprus problem.
At the banquet of the Conference, on Thursday, White House Communications Director and Former State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki was honored with the “Athens/Livanos Award”. President Barack Obama has sent a written message praising Psaki, a fourth generation Greek American.
Cyprus Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Cypriots Photios Photiou received the “Barbed Wire Award,” that he dedicated to the mothers of the Cypriot Missing Persons of the Turkish invasion.
On the second day, the delegates met and discussed Cyprus and the role of Turkey with over 25 key members of the House of Representatives and 5 Senators and were briefed about the U.S. policy regarding Cyprus by Vice President’s National Security Advisor Colin Kalh and his assistant Mike Carpenter.
THE OPENNING DAY
The Presidents of PSEKA and POMAK Philip Christopher and Evripidis Papaevripidou, HALC’s executive director Endy Zemenides and Greek Americans representing leading community organizations spoke at the opening session of the Conference. There was also a documentary viewing on the Genocide of the Christian Minorities in Asia Minor and a presentation of the book of Maria Menoikos “Archangel”.
A panel discussion has taken place on the “Bilateral relations between Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Armenia”, with the participation of the Ambassador of Armenia to the US, Tigran Sargsyan, the Ambassador of Cyprus to the US, George Chacalli, the Political advisor of the Embassy of Egypt to the US, Counselor Dr. Alaa Abdalaziz, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Israel to the US, Reuven Azar and the Ambassador of Greece to the US, Christos Panagopoulos.
State Department Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, Amos Hochstein briefed the delegates on the energy issues in eastern Mediterranean and the prospects of cooperation in exploiting the hydrocarbon discoveries.
Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou conveyed the message and greetings of the President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades and briefed the delegates about the recent developments in the talks between Anastasiades and Akinci.
In his speech, Photiou referred to the resumption of Cyprus talks, stressing among others that artificial deadlines or timeframes must and should be avoided.
“The international community’s primary concern should be to safeguard the process itself through avoiding mistakes of the past. During previous negotiation rounds there was a failure to acknowledge strong sensitivities of the Greek Cypriot community, and in turn, negatively affected the prospect of reaching a settlement. What will determine the progress and the pace of the negotiating process is the content of the proposals put forward and how constructive and creative both sides will be,” he noted.
He underlined that the resumption of the negotiations does not absolve Turkey, which still militarily occupies the northern part of Cyprus, from its obligations and responsibilities concerning the efforts to find a just solution. “We do hope and expect that Turkey will demonstrate genuine political will and negotiate in good faith, so as to contribute constructively to the efforts to reach a settlement, not only in rhetoric, but through practical and substantial actions,” Photiou said.
He also stressed that the role of the European Union in the negotiating process is also of vital importance, noting that “membership in the EU provides all the necessary safeguards and guarantees that all Cypriot people will need for their security.”
On the economy, he said that “Cyprus, against all the ominous predictions, managed to turn the economic crisis into an opportunity for reform and restructuring.”
As regards energy perspectives, Photiou said that “our priority, for the time being, is the creation of a floating production facility at the field site, connected to a gas export subsea pipeline directed to Egypt and a gas pipeline supplying natural gas to the Cyprus domestic market for power generation.”
Addressing the 31st Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference, US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Amanda Sloat expressed the belief that today there is a critical window of opportunity to resolve the Cyprus problem that has persisted for far too long.
“With the strong commitment of both the Greek Cypriot and the Cypriot leaders, the active UN facilitation and the support of the United States and the broad international community, including both Turkey and Greece, there is a real potential for concrete progress in the months ahead,” Sloat said,
Amanda Sloat also spoke about the great economic opportunities a Cyprus settlement will bring to the people of the island, by attracting investments in tourism, shipping and other sectors, by taking advantage of both Cyprus’ geostrategic advantages and its highly educated workforce. This will also bring benefits to the whole region, with energy cooperation etc, she added.
“To achieve this vision of the future, Cypriots are engaged in a challenging work of reaching a settlement to build a prosperous and flourishing Cyprus. Together with their negotiating teams and the support of UN Special Advisor Eide and his Good Offices team, the leaders are working to build a shared vision of the Cyprus of tomorrow”, she noted.
“We support these efforts and we continue to reiterate our willingness to be helpful to the process in any way the parries would like. The signs are very positive, but we recognize that ultimately it is the Cypriots themselves who must find a mutually acceptable settlement,” the US official added.
She spoke about the recent joint meeting between Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, and the joint statement, pointing out the CBMs agreed as well as their appeal for the missing.
Amanda Sloat appealed to the Greek American leaders to help advancing efforts to achieve a just and lasting statement.
“All of you as very influential members of the Diaspora Community have a role to play. In particular you are a vital bridge in the Cypriot and the American communities. Your words of support and encouragement for the settlement efforts will have strong credibility in Cyprus,” she noted.
She reassured the Greek Americans that the US administration remains engaged in the highest level in supporting the settlement efforts.
“We are committed in supporting a Cypriot led process that can achieve a just and lasting settlement. We are also convinced that the benefits of reunified Cyprus will resonate beyond the island, having a profoundly positive effect across the eastern Mediterranean region,” she noted.
Amanda Sloat also referred to cooperation between the US and Cyprus. One fields she mentioned was the cooperation to combat terrorism, pointing out that Cyprus is one of the 60 nations recognizing the threat posed by the Islamic State.
The two countries are also working together to counter the threat of the weapons of mass destruction, she added, noting their joint exercise on countering the spread of WoMD and also the participation of Cyprus in the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
On the economic front she mentioned the new US investments in Cyprus, estimated to amount $660 mil., primarily in the banking and energy sectors, underlining that “we continue to look for ways to strengthen the breadth and the depth of our cooperation”.
Replying to questions, Amanda Sloat said Turkey has an important role to play in the process for a Cyprus settlement and the US continues the engagement at diplomatic levels with the Turks.
“Even though there are a lot of conversations with Turkey certainly about things happening in Syria, Iraq, ISI, one of the items always remains on the agenda of the VP, the Secretary of State and other officials is the importance of engaging in Cyprus,” she noted.
She added that the Turks continue to reiterate their interest and support of a settlement.
“My understanding is that Akinci had a productive first visit in Ankara where he met with the Turksih leadership. Cavusoglu was in the island last week. We have an opportunity here with a leader in the Turkish Cypriot community who is very supportive of a settlement and has done a lot to engage with Ankara in the early days, so my plea is let’s see. There is an opportunity now, let’s test it and see how thing are developing in the next couple of months.” She also noted that the issue of the security and the troops will be dealt in the context of the negations.
On recent comments of US Ambassador in Cyprus John Koenig, she said “if you look at the entirety of what he said, he was very forward looking in his remarks, in terms of expressing the US continuing support for what we see in the settlement talks. At the briefings we have continued to be very clear what our position is. That we continue to support the UN talks and the effort to reunify the island as bizonal bicommunal federation. I don’t think there is any change in our position on this issue”.
To a question why US administration treats the Russian invasion to Crimea differently than the Turkish invasion to Cyprus, Sloat said “in Cyprus now we have a process in place right now, that is led by the UN, both communities have agreed to and support and desire to participate in the process. Turkey is a very important component of this, all we can do is promise to continue engaging with Turkey to encourage their active participation in this process.”
Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos has said that the US will help to solve the Cyprus problem, after his contacts in Washington DC.
Galanos and the Mayor of Kytrea Petros Kareklas met with Michael Carpenter, Special Advisor to the US Vice President for Europe and Eurasia.
“I believe that the US, as far as I understood from the talks, will play a role and help to solve the Cyprus problem. The new ambassador of the US must play a role,” Famagusta mayor said in statements to the CNA.
The discussion also covered the issue of Varosha, the fenced off area of Famagusta. The mayor believes that the accession of UN experts to that area would be a very serious move that could convey the message that we are heading towards the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.
“It will take years to build the new Famagusta and if it can be developed that will come with the solution of the Cyprus problem. Thus the priority of Famagusta is a strong card in our hands” Galanos noted and stressed that the issues of Famagusta and the destruction of Cyprus` cultural heritage have kept the Cyprus issue alive.
He believes that the fact that Mustafa Akinci is now the leader of the Turkish Cypriots is a very positive development.
“The most difficult issue that we will face at the end of the day is that of the guarantees. With Mr. Carpenter we exchanged various opinions and thoughts. Expressing my personal opinion I said that if we want a strong majority in the new referendum that will be held and for the Greek Cypriots that voted `No` – including myself – to vote `Yes`, we have to be careful in certain things. A large part of our people will not accept NATO guarantees. There are other solutions,” Galanos noted, without elaborating.
A new round of UN-backed talks with the aim to reunite Cyprus, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion, resumed last month.