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Gas, Ukraine Top Biden Cyprus Visit

NICOSIA — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden travels on May 21 to Cyprus to discuss the country’s reunification efforts and its ability to tap gas deposits, which could turn the east Mediterranean island into a source of stability in a tumultuous region.

Biden, the most senior American official to visit Cyprus since his predecessor Lyndon Johnson in 1962, is expected to voice support for talks to reunify the island, which was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

A peace deal would have regional repercussions as it could help mend strained relations between key U.S. regional allies Turkey and Israel. Those countries fell out after Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010.

A reunified Cyprus could also act as a conduit to transport Cypriot and Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey via a pipeline, helping to reduce the continent’s energy dependence on Russia, which has threatened to cut deliveries amid the Ukrainian crisis.

“If diplomacy succeeds, energy resources could therefore provide the impetus required to resolve deep and longstanding disputes,” said Sofronis Clerides, an economics professor at the University of Cyprus.

U.S. company Noble Energy is already involved in developing the island’s sole proven gas field, along with Israeli partners Delek and Avner.

Biden’svisit comes on the invitation of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who has realigned Cyprus’ policies more in favor of the U.S. and Europe in contrast to his predecessor, a move the U.S. administration has welcomed.

Biden l also delve into the possibility of stronger sanctions against Russia over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

But bailed-out Cyprus relies on Russian tourists and bank deposits to buoy its weakened economy and doesn’t want to harm its long-standing relationship with Moscow. The Cypriot government favors excluding some EU countries from a harsher sanctions regime or granting them the ability to opt out.

However, the U.S. believes that “speaking with one voice” on sanctions is best when confronting Russia over Ukraine, a senior U.S. administration official said on condition of anonymity.

Cyprus’ main airport was briefly evacuated following a bomb hoax, a day ahead of a visit to the small Mediterranean island nation by Biden.

Marios Demetriades, the country’s communications minister, said that the telephone warning of a possible bomb turned out be a hoax and that Larnaca airport was operating as normal once again following a brief evacuation. A sweep of the terminal found “suspicious items” that police later said weren’t dangerous.

He said another phone call about a bomb at the country’s other, smaller airport in Paphos also turned out to be a hoax and operations there were unaffected.

Biden begins his three-day visit on May 21. Demetriades said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that someone may have made the hoax because of Biden’s trip.

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