In an interview with Al-Ahram Al-Arabi weekly magazine, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades praised Egyptian-Cypriot relations and his deep ties with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
President Anastasiades said that Cyprus will continue its gas exploration projects, and blamed Turkey for the failure of the Cyprus reunification negotiations held in Switzerland last July.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: How would you describe your relationship with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi?
President Anastasiades: In recent years, President El-Sisi and I have formed a relationship of deep friendship, mutual trust and respect. This has helped us to further enhance the relations between our countries, both at a bilateral but also at a trilateral level (with Greece), building on the solid foundations that our relation is already based on.
This strengthening of our relations is marked by the increasing record of bilateral visits at the highest level, including President El-Sisi’s visit in November 2017, the first ever official visit of an Egyptian president to Cyprus since the establishment of our diplomatic relations.
I look forward to continuing working closely with President El-Sisi, during this second term in office, to further broaden and deepen our cooperation, as well as in advancing our common goals for prosperity, peace and stability in our region.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: What are the prospects for further cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in the coming period?
President Anastasiades: As I mentioned, in recent years we have given increased momentum to our cooperation, and this is something reflected both at the bilateral and the trilateral level. In fact, we have successfully expanded the legal framework of our bilateral relations by concluding important agreements that bolster the backbone of our cooperation. And I can gladly state that we have now started reaping the reward of the enhancement of our relations in various fields of common interest, such as energy, economy and trade, and security and defence.
Cyprus has always supported the strategic importance of the partnership between Egypt and the Union and we will continue to do so.
Furthermore, the current trilateral partnership between Cyprus, Egypt and Greece serves as a model for furthering dialogue and promoting a broader regional cooperation. We are ready to expand, deepen and enrich this partnership, and continue working closely on issues of mutual interest beneficial for our countries and the wider region, and towards promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.
Given the opportunity, it is worth mentioning that on 30 April I will attend the inauguration of the “Nostos, the Return” programme in Alexandria, an excellent Egyptian initiative towards our joint efforts to build ties on diaspora issues that will provide a great opportunity to further broaden our tripartite cooperation.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: How do you view Egypt's war on terrorism?
President Anastasiades: Terrorism is an international scourge whose purpose is to cause chaos and instability and disrupt the normal functioning of state. This can never be tolerated.
In this regard, the Republic of Cyprus has steadfastly expressed its support to the Arab Republic of Egypt on the country’s war against terrorism. Egypt has indeed suffered greatly as a result of terrorism and in this regard we support the Egyptian efforts to contain and expunge this scourge from its soil.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: Do you support Egypt’s transformation into a gas trading centre in the southern Mediterranean?
President Anastasiades: Recently, the European Union and Egypt agreed on the text of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation that is going to be signed among the two sides in April 2018. The purpose of the Memorandum is for the EU and Egypt to further develop their relations and cooperation in the energy sector during the following years.
There are a number of areas of cooperation, including further assistance to the development of the oil and gas sector and the development of an energy hub. The European Union supports Egypt’s role in becoming an oil and gas hub in the Mediterranean. Such a development would have significant importance for Europe’s security of gas supply and would facilitate the diversification of gas supplies to Europe.
Cyprus fully supports this deepening of relations between the EU and Egypt. Furthermore, bilaterally we are working closely with our Egyptian counterparts on a number of projects in the energy and electricity sectors that will contribute to the achievement of the goals of the MoU between the Union and Egypt.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: Are there any current efforts to resume the reunification negotiations with Turkey after the failure of the last round of negotiations in July?
President Anastasiades: I believe that you share my assessment, also taking into account Turkey’s recent actions in our immediate region, of how justified our position in Crans Montana was to end the Turkish guarantees and intervention rights, as well as the permanent presence of Turkish troops in the re-united Cyprus.
Unfortunately, due to Turkey’s intransigence on the above-mentioned issues, the Conference in Cyprus at Crans Montana in July 2017 was unsuccessful. Since then, on numerous occasions, I reiterated my commitment to the UN secretary-general to continue negotiations based on the framework he had set. My determination, however, to continue the negotiations and resume the efforts for the reunification of Cyprus can only yield results if it is reciprocated by the other parties, namely Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side.
To this end, what is yet again unfortunate, is the fact that following my re-election to the presidency and while deliberations were underway with the UN in order to resume negotiations, Turkey, adopting “gun-boat diplomacy,” violated our sovereign rights to explore and exploit our natural resources, hindering our energy policy and programming.
What I would like to stress is that if Turkey’s illegal actions cease, and if the unacceptable positions and demands put forward by the Turkish Cypriot side are withdrawn, I would be ready to immediately engage in a new dialogue as regards the internal aspects of the Cyprus Problem and also to take part in a new Conference on Cyprus, provided that the necessary preparation has taken place and that the five permanent members of the Security Council and the EU will assume an active role.
The steps forward will be discussed and assessed during an informal social dinner, without agenda, with the Turkish Cypriot leader, to be hosted by the UN on April 16.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: What do you think about Turkey's recent blocking of an ENI excavator off the Cypriot coast?
President Anastasiades: The illegal actions and provocations by Turkey in the Republic of Cyprus’ maritime zones constitute a flagrant violation of international and EU law, including UNCLOS, and of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus within its exclusive economic zone. These acts physically obstructed the Italian energy firm ENI from reaching its planned drilling area in Exploration Block 3 of our exclusive economic zone.
These actions undermine the interests and objectives of the European Union’s policy for energy security and diversification of sources and routes, and are completely contrary to Turkey’s outstanding obligations towards the EU as a candidate country.
Furthermore, Turkey’s actions in our maritime zones have nothing to do with the interests of the Turkish Cypriots, while they have everything to do with advancing Turkey’s own interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey’s claim that it is acting to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots is completely unfounded, since:
- There is a convergence from the previous round of negotiations on the issue of exploration and exploitation of natural resources that decisions with regard to the maritime areas will be a federal competence in reunited Cyprus. This convergence was never challenged by the Turkish Cypriot side.
- We have submitted for approval to the House of Representatives a bill which creates a sovereign fund for the management of any future hydrocarbon resources, safeguarding the interests of current and future generations of all Cypriots.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: Could Cyprus possibly change its plans to explore gas and oil because of this Turkish threat?
President Anastasiades: Over the past few years, we have made some remarkable steps towards the realisation of our exploration program, which we aspire to soon consolidate Cyprus as a natural gas producer and a transit country. Our goal is to fully explore and exploit, in the best terms possible, the hydrocarbon potential in our exclusive economic zone, and successfully implement our ambitious exploration program, based on the overall hydrocarbons development strategy of the Republic.
At present, the competent Ministry of Energy and the 'Aphrodite' consortium are engaged in advanced discussions to establish, at the soonest possible time, the Development and Production Plan of the Aphrodite gas field.
At the same time, there has been much progress regarding the exploration activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus.
Following the Republic’s 3rd Licensing Round and the decision to grant hydrocarbon exploration licenses for Blocks 6, 8 and 10 to ENI/TOTAL, ENI and ExxonMobil/Qatar Petroleum respectively, we anticipate with eagerness the completion of the exploration program of all licensed companies.
At the same time, no one can deny that Turkey’s actions are aimed at achieving the country’s long-term goal of becoming an exclusive energy supply hub for the European Union, or even, as we can conclude from recent events, to control the natural gas supply from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
The continuous Turkish threats will not prevent us from exercising our rights as an independent and fully integrated member state of the European Union, to proceed with our program as planned.
I do hope that Turkey will finally adopt the realistic approach of changing tactics and behaviour, in line with international law and European standards, principles and values, in order to achieve progress in what matters to both the EU and all of us. This would be to the benefit of all, including our immediate region.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: Are you satisfied with European reactions over the gas issue?
President Anastasiades: The EU strongly condemned Turkey’s illegal actions and collectively conveyed a strong message to the Turkish leadership, both at the recent European Council and the leaders’ meeting in Varna. Specifically in the European Council Conclusions of March 2018, there was an unprecedented strong condemnation of Turkey’s continuing illegal activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, which of course includes the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus.
Furthermore, the European Council urgently called on Turkey to cease these actions and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law. It also recalled Turkey's obligation to respect International Law and good neighbourly relations, and normalize relations with all EU member states including the Republic of Cyprus. Lastly, the European Council affirmed that it will continue to monitor these matters.
This is a principled position and a stance of solidarity that serves the overall best interest of the Union despite the continuous Turkish threats on the gas issue. As a Union, we have the obligation to protect and preserve our founding principles and values, the respect for rule of law, democracy, human rights and the fundamental freedoms.