Panel Discussion on Eastern Mediterranean

Αssociated Press

At the panel from left to right: Thomas Smith, professor of political science and director of the Honors Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Professor Golfo Alexopoulos, director of USF’s Institute on Russia, Varnavas Zagaris, president of the Pancyprian Association in Florida, and Congressman Gus Bilirakis. (Photo by TNH/ Aria Sokratous)

TAMPA, FL – The Pancyprian Association of Florida, the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus-PSEKA, the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations, and the Panhellenic Federation of Florida presented a panel discussion on Justice and Peace in the Eastern Mediterranean; Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean; and the Trilateral Alliance (Greece, Cyprus, Israel) and its impact on American interests on January 25 at St Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

The discussion was moderated by the president of the Pancyprian Association of Florida, Varnavas Zagaris, and the panel included Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Thomas Smith, professor of political science and director of the Honors Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, who from 1997-2000 was an assistant professor of International Relations at Koc University Constantinople, and Professor Golfo Alexopoulos, director of USF’s Institute on Russia.

The main topics of the discussion were the exploration of gas in the Cypriot EEZ, the trilateral agreement between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus, Turkish human right violations, and whether the United States is willing to confront Ankara.

“The Turkish government is supporting Muslim brotherhood and Islamic extremist groups in Syria. The newspapers are talking about Erdogan’s ambitions of reuniting Ottoman Empire. Don’t take that too lightly, especially with Greece being so close to Turkey and Cyprus being so close and occupied. Is the United States willing to stand up to Erdogan? Is it willing to protect its interests in the Middle East? Is the United States willing to impose sanctions on Turkey? The first school of diplomacy was established in Turkey. They definitely know how to play the game,” stated Zagaris.

Bilirakis did not pull his punches either: “Turkey is a bad actor on the international stage. Finally, it is now clear that Turkey is not acting on behalf of the United States. We took action by placing sanctions on Turkey and we will continue placing sanctions on Turkey. Additionally, we had a productive dialogue with the UN regarding Cyprus, a reason to be optimistic about progress.

“The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act was signed into law at the end of last year. It authorizes the establishment of the U.S. Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the U.S., Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. It authorizes financing assistance for Greece and international military education assistance for Greece and Cyprus. It requires the administration to submit to Congress a strategy for security and Energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. We have an ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is working on behalf Cyprus and Greece. Pompeo made some very strong statements…especially when Turkey first invaded the exclusive economic zone and two weeks later the State Department [responded]. The sanctions go on and they can become stronger,” stated the Congressman.

“The East Med Agreement is not good news for Russia. Russia wants to maintain its authority as a major gas supplier in Europe. It has an agreement with Turkey…they established the TurkStream gas line that brings natural gas from Russia under the Black Sea and they do not want the partnership between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel to threaten that. Russia is known to use energy as a weapon especially in Ukraine and Belarus. The other issue is that Russia wants to remain a great power in the region,” stated Alexopoulos,” Bilirakis added.

Smith pointed out that, “it is a really interesting question, the relationship between Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan. Turkey feels like it should be a part of that. The reason is that Turkey traditionally had pretty good relationship with Israel.”

After the discussion, the moderator took questions from the audience.