NICOSIA – A new U.S. law geared toward boosting energy and security cooperation in the east Mediterranean is indicative of the significance that Washington attaches to the region, Cyprus’ foreign minister said Saturday.
Nikos Christodoulides said that the passing of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 also sends out “significant diplomatic and political messages” about how the U.S. perceives a growing energy partnership between Cyprus, Greece and Israel.
Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who co-authored the bill called the legislation “a comprehensive re-calibration of American diplomatic, military, and economic policy towards the Eastern Mediterranean and a strong and prosperous alliance between the United States, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus.”
Cyprus, Greece and Israel have since 2016 forged closer relations based on natural gas deposits discovered in the eastern Mediterranean. Among the key aspects of this partnership is a plan for a pipeline to potentially convey Cypriot and Israeli offshore gas to mainland Europe via Greece.
Christodoulides said officials from the three countries are now working on cobbling together a deal for the ‘East Med’ pipeline project to move beyond the planning stages. He said “concrete developments” are expected early next year.
“The U.S. attaches great importance to the eastern Mediterranean — and it is not only the U.S. — for many issues such as security, terrorism and the east Mediterranean’s prospects as an alternative energy corridor for Europe,” Christodoulides said.
The act also lifts a 32-year-old U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus which Christodoulides said is primarily a symbolic action that paves the way for the upgrading of U.S.-Cyprus relations. This could include abolishing a visa requirement for Cypriot passport holders travelling to the U.S. and revamping a double taxation treaty.
He said Cyprus has no plans to seek U.S. arms and that the act isn’t directed against any other country.
“Our vision for the region is to see all states together, without excluding anyone, even Turkey … confronting both the challenges and prospects the region faces,” said Christodoulides.
Turkey doesn’t recognize European Union-member Cyprus as a state and says that part of the waters where the ethnically divided island nation has exclusive economic rights fall within its own continental shelf.
Ankara also strongly objects to the Cypriot government’s gas search and has dispatched warship-escorted vessels to carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus, including in areas where energy companies such as Italy’s Eni and France’s Total are licensed to drill.
The EU has condemned Turkey’s actions and has prepared sanctions against it.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement earlier this week that lifting the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus “will have no outcome other than hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation.”
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in Cyprus’ northern third and keeps more than 35,000 troops there.
Christodoulides said Cyprus would continue to offer its facilities to any other country wishing to mount humanitarian operations in the region.