NICOSIA – Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Cyprus. He is the most senior American official to visit Cyprus since his predecessor Lyndon Johnson in 1962. Biden voiced strong support for a new round of talks to reunify the island.
On May 22 the Vice President said Cyprus’s natural gas reserves can transform the eastern Mediterranean into a “global hub” for the fossil fuel, and that Cyprus is “uniquely situated at a critical time in modern history” to become a new energy conduit.
Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus’ President, said the gas deposits, which also exist in Israeli waters, can offer “an alternative energy corridor leading to increased energy security.”
Experts note that the gas could help reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, which has at times during the crisis in Ukraine threatened to cut deliveries.
The AP reported that “Biden also pledged to provide any assistance to efforts aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island. In 1974, Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.”
The text of his public statement at Larnaca International Airport follows:
“Mr. Minister, thank you for coming to greet Jill and me personally. I’ve been looking forward to this visit for a long time, ever since I was elected to the United States Senate way back in 1973.
It’s great to finally be here in Cyprus, and I’m told I’m the first United States Vice President to be on Cyprus since Vice President Lyndon Johnson visited this beautiful island. I came here at the invitation of your President, and the government of the Republic of Cyprus. And I wanted to come to primarily underscore the value the United States attaches to our growing cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus.
This relationship is now a genuine, strategic partnership, and it holds even greater promise, Mr. Minister. I look forward to sitting down tomorrow with the President to discuss a shared agenda, Cyprus’s growing leadership in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus’s support for the mission to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria and to help prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, its role in Europe and in the regional energy security, and our continued cooperation on search and rescue, crisis response, and counterterrorism. There’s much to discuss.
And tomorrow the President and I will also discuss events in Ukraine. We have to be resolute and united in the face of Russian intervention. Also I know that the Cypriot people have faced tough economic challenges and have already made painful sacrifices. And I’ve been pleased to see the government make good on the progress of economic reform. I believe the economy is beginning to turn the corner. And we look forward to working with you to deepen our trade involvement and to restore growth and prosperity.
Of course, an important focus of our conversations will be the settlement process. I look forward to meeting with the leaders of both communities; the leaders of the Greek Cypriot community tomorrow, and with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community the following day. The United States — I want to be clear about this — recognizes only one legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus, and my visit and meetings throughout the island will not change that. It is my personal position. It’s the position of the United States of America, and it’s the position of the entire world — save one country.
And it’s long past time — 40 years — that all Cypriots are reunited in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. I’ve been encouraged by the steps that have recently been taken, the Joint Declaration on February the 11th, the visit of the Greek Cypriot negotiator to Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot negotiator to Athens, support from the international community, and the seriousness of purpose we have seen in this process thus far.
After so many rounds of talks and so many years of stalemate, it’s legitimate to ask the question whether this time can be any different. When I think of that question I’m reminded of the words of my friend and former colleague in the United States Senate George Mitchell, the U.S. Envoy to Northern Ireland, who said, “We had 700 days of failure and one day of success,” referring to his mission in Northern Ireland.
Peace is always possible, but it requires engagement — not just from leaders but from citizens. In that respect I’m encouraged to hear about the joint initiative from Cypriot political, civic and business leaders, historic religious services and dialogue, and the restoration of sacred sites throughout the island.
Now I’ve heard that the local press assumes I’m coming with a plan for peace in my back pocket to solve the Cyprus problem. I’d like to put that rumor to rest. I came here on behalf of the United States to help you get a solution, not to present or impose one. Many of you know that I’ve been personally following events in Cyprus for more than 40 years, long enough to know that only Cypriots can decide on a vision for your future, and only Cypriots can exercise the courage necessary to make that vision real.
Imagine what can happen if you make sure that this time is different, that this time a solution is reached. It would mean incredibly greater prosperity, greater security, and a future of limitless possibilities for a generation freed from the straightjacket that decades of division have imposed upon this island. This island can and should be the bedrock of stability and opportunity for Europe and for the Eastern Mediterranean. The story of the 20th century in Europe was one where barriers fell and peace and prosperity rose up in their place. That can and should happen on this beautiful island. I’ve traveled to Cyprus today because I believe this time can be different. Whether it will depends on the people of this island.
But my wife and I look forward to seeing as much as we can of your beautiful island, Mr. Minister, and to meet as many Cypriots as we can; and again, to gain a better appreciation for their lives and their hopes.
So let me end where I began, thanking President Anastasiades for his cooperation and for his efforts to help build a genuine strategic partnership with the United States, a partnership between our countries that holds even greater promise in the future.
Again, thank you for greeting me today, and good night — although it’s very light. Thank you.”