Washington, DC – Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told the AJC Global Forum at a plenary session this evening that Cyprus is poised to play a greater role in the Eastern Mediterranean and is ready to deepen its relationships with Israel and the United States. More than 1,800 guests were in the audience from the U.S. and 70 other countries at the annual gathering in Washington, D.C.
Kasoulides praised AJC for “helping advance our ties with Israel and the United States.” Those relations, rooted in shared values of democracy and freedom, have led in recent years to a significant expansion in political, economic and security cooperation.
“We have a responsibility to play a more active role in our immediate region, the Eastern Mediterranean, leveraging our excellent relations with our neighbors toward greater regional stability and prosperity,” said Kasoulides.
The discovery of substantial hydrocarbon deposits between the island nation of Cyprus and Israel has created new opportunities for the Cypriot economy and for expanding relationships with countries in the region, as well as with the U.S. and EU. “The enormity of investment required to exploit this offshore treasure creates an impetus of its own toward greater cooperation,” he said. Several U.S. and Israeli energy companies are already involved in the project of extracting the natural gas.
“Natural gas can become for the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean what coal and steel was for Europe…which was the precursor of the European Union,” said Kasoulides. He noted that 2014 marks a decade since Cyprus’ accession to the EU.
For Cyprus, the discovery is a “game changer,” said Kasoulides. “It makes it potentially possible for Cyprus to undergo improvements that will affect all its citizens and serve as a catalyst for the reunification of the island.” Cyprus has been divided for 40 years, since the Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern third of the country in 1974.
Kasoulides emphasized that close, cooperative Cypriot-Israeli relations go back decades. “In Cyprus, Israel recognizes a steadfast, stable and predictable partner, one that is democratic, moderate and discreet — a reliable partner through thick and thin,” he said.
In 2013 alone, there were 14 high-level visits to Israel, including one by President Anastasiades shortly after taking office. The more than 30 bilateral agreements signed in recent years have “established a solid framework for substantive cooperation in all fields,” he said. And he noted the role of Israeli engineers and agricultural experts in the 1950s and 1960s in “the development of our industries.”
Speaking ten days after Israel and world Jewry observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, the foreign minister recalled the experience of many Holocaust survivors who were interned in British-run camps in Cyprus after London blocked their entry to Mandatory Palestine.
Kasoulides said “For many in Cyprus and Israel, the experience of the internment camps has brought our two peoples closer together…Those bonds are now in their third generation, with the 2,000 children born in those camps, passing on to their grandchildren their friendship and love for Cyprus.”
In closing, the foreign minister expressed hope for a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “For us, as for all our partners in the European Union, a better tomorrow for a secure Israel is the creation of a friendly, viable Palestinian state, which comes about as a result of negotiations, and not by unilateral actions.”
AJC leadership delegations have regularly visited Cyprus since the 1980s, often together with Hellenic-American leaders. During the most recent visit in March, President Anastasiades hosted the group, which included AJC President Stanley Bergman and Executive Director David Harris, for a private dinner in his home and the foreign minister attended.
“Our relationship with the American Jewish Committee…is a relationship of genuine friendship, appreciation, mutual respect and common interests,” said Kasoulides.