NICOSIA – Last week Vice President Joe Biden became the most senior American official to visit Cyprus since Lyndon Johnson in 1962. Biden, who also met with community leaders at the White House before the trip, voiced strong support for a new round of talks to reunify the island.
When Biden arrived he said “I wanted to come to primarily underscore the value the United States attaches to our growing cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus.”
Addressing concerns about his also visiting the Turkish-occupied territory, Biden said “The United States…recognizes only one legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus, and my visit and meetings throughout the island will not change that….it’s the position of the entire world – save one country [Turkey]. And it’s long past time – 40 years – that all Cypriots are reunited in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.”
Observers agree that Cyprus’ newly discovered hydrocarbon deposits are a game changer.
Biden said they can transform the eastern Mediterranean into a “global hub” for hydrocarbons and that Cyprus is “uniquely situated at a critical time in modern history” to become a new energy conduit.
Participants in the White House meeting on May 19 told TNH they are looking forward to a follow up meeting.
Basil Mosssaides, the Executive Director of AHEPA, told TNH “it was a very good meeting. The Vice president was there with a member of the National Security Council and three State Department Officials.” He described the meeting as a briefing rather than a Q & A session, but each leader was able to make statements.
Tasos Zambas , Alternate President of PSEKA told TNH “For the Vice President to come to Cyprus and call it a new strategic partner and a new energy hub,” is very significant, adding, “The status of Cyprus has been elevated from being a small island to being a big player in energy and strategic partnerships…It’s up to the Cypriot government now to take the ball and carry it forward.”
Zambas also noted it is in Turkey’s interest to solve the Cyprus problem. “Turkey is isolated right now,” he said, and agrees its must move forward with EU accession negotiations, which means they must move forward on Cyprus.
Panicos Papanicolaou, the former Cyprus Federation of America, told TNH he believes the visit sends a very important signal to Turkey, among others.
Biden “made a very good impression on the people of Cyprus,” Papanicolaou said.
Andy Manatos, President of the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, emphasized that a lot of thought goes into trips by president and vice presidents, and noted the catalytic role played by President Bill Clinton’s historic visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the 1990s. “It had a profound impact on an issue that was dead in the water…and the visit of Biden to Cyprus is of comparable potential, in terms of elevating an issue on the American agenda, and it too will accrue to the benefit of both the people of Cyprus and Turkey.”
Nick Larigakis, the president of AHI said “we are very pleased the Vice President visited Cyprus during this very important period at the beginning of negotiations. It shows that the United States supports the process and highlights the important bi-lateral relationship between the U.S. and Cyprus.”
He expressed satisfaction that “the Vice President made it very clear, that there is only one government that is recognized,” and that AHI also appreciated the invitation to the White House to discuss the issues prior to Biden’s historic trip.
Larigakis had the opportunity to note that “the developing and institutionalized relations between Cyprus, Greece and Israel are the three pillars of stability and democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they are important for the projection of the geo-strategic interests of the United States.”
He added that “a Cyprus solution will not only further cement that stability,” and told Biden “It is despicable that in 2014 troops of a NATO country are occupying a member of the EU.”
Among those present at the White House meeting along with all the above were Costas Tsentas, President of the Cyprus Federation of America, Nikos Mouyiaris, member of the Board of the Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Philip Christopher and Tasos Zambas, president and alternate president of PSEKA.