Interview by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al Ahram*
[Available in arabic, as published on 18/3/2021, here]
How are the prospects for bilateral cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus?
Ties between Egypt and Cyprus go back thousands of years, to antiquity. In modern times, Egypt was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Cyprus, following our Independence in 1960. Over this period, we have developed a vibrant and multifaceted relationship with more than 40 bilateral agreements now in place, attesting to the strength of the cooperation. Given this solid foundation and the dynamic momentum of recent years that has seen this cooperation expand also to the trilateral and regional level, we are constantly working with our Egyptian counterparts to further enhance cooperation in traditional areas and expand it to cover new ones, always based on a positive agenda, strengthening at the same time people to people contacts.
Given the complimentary nature of our economies as neighbouring countries with historic ties and a shared vision for inclusive cooperation and stability in our broader region, I believe that there is great potential for strengthening our cooperation further, especially in fields such as energy, trade, tourism, defense and security, and maritime affairs. In this regard, our Ministries of Foreign Affairs along with our Embassies in Cairo and Nicosia respectively, are in close and constant communication in order take advantage of new evolving synergies in driving cooperation forward in the years to come. The prospects are very favourable indeed.
At the same time, it is worth stressing that Cyprus is the strongest advocate when it comes to EU-Egypt relations, highlighting Egypt’s strategic importance to the broader region and at the same time on the need to expand the Egypt – EU trade and economic relations, through a number of existing programmes. The ongoing magnitude of reforms taking place in Egypt and the positive trajectory of its economy, present great opportunities for both European and Egyptian societies, whilst the responsible way in which Egypt handles migratory pressures cannot be stressed enough within this context, as well.
We’ve witnessed a breakthrough in this relationship in recent years. What effect has this had at the political, economic or social level?
There were important stepping stones which led to the elevation of our relations into a strategic partnership. In 2003, Egypt was the first country with which Cyprus has concluded an EEZ delimitation agreement, setting a positive paradigm for all countries in the region and clearly manifesting our mutual commitment and respect for International Law.
Ten years later, my predecessor was the first EU Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Egypt and extend Cyprus’ support to the new Egyptian government, in turbulent 2013. The following year, our two countries, along with Greece, proceeded to establish the first trilateral partnership in the region, setting the first example of regional cooperation, which culminated in the establishment of the EMGF.
All these “firsts” are the bedrock on which the strategic dimension of our relations was established upon. Therefore, the political architecture is now in place and we are already witnessing a spill-over effect on the economic and hence the social levels. People to people contacts, for example, are certainly enhanced and with them the synergies in a number of areas. One example is the increased number of flights (before the pandemic) which is a positive index regarding the exchanges at social and economic levels.
The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum has transformed into a regional governmental organization. What are your thoughts on the accession of the United Arab Emirates?
The entry into force of the Statute of the EMGF is a milestone development for our region, as the EMGF will significantly contribute in unlocking the full gas resource potential in the region for the benefit and welfare of its people, the region in general, and beyond. It is worth noting that the foundations for the regional cooperation that led to the setting up of the EMGF were laid by the network of trilateral cooperation mechanisms in which both Cyprus and Egypt have played an instrumental role, along with Greece and other countries in our region,
The international attention that the Forum has already attracted, beyond the confines of our region, is an additional assurance for its success. In this respect, Cyprus has been advocating from the outset the importance of the inclusivity of the Forum and to this end the EMGF is open for any East Mediterranean country to apply for membership and for any other country, regional, or international organization to apply to join as an observer provided that they share the same values and objectives of the EMGF and the willingness to cooperate on the basis of international law for the security of the whole region and the welfare of its peoples. The formal expression of interest by the UAE to receive the Observer status in the EMGF is a very welcome development and Cyprus, of course, strongly supports it.
The EMGF is an example of what can be achieved through cooperation amongst countries of the region on the basis of respect for International Law and the principles of good neighborly relations, and we must use it as a blueprint for developing cooperation in other areas and fields.
Turkey continues to pursue a provocative policy that poses great dangers in the region. Visiting the region of Varosha, sending mercenaries to Libya and amongst other things waving the migrant card. How do you describe these actions, and what is the purpose behind them?
You have very aptly described in your question only a few manifestations of the revisionist policy pursued by Turkey. These actions are obviously part of an overall pattern of behaviour, which translates into using all available means and exerting all possible pressure with the ultimate purpose of advancing its own expansionist interests. I don’t believe that this kind of approach can yield positive results of Turkey in the long term. On the contrary, they are viewed with concern and create mistrust from all countries of the region.
With regard to Varosha, Turkey’s actions are in sharp contrast to relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and have been condemned by the Security Council including with its Presidential Statement of 9 October 2020 as well as through the recent resolution for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, which call on Turkey to reverse its decision. It is important also to note that the EU has also reacted to Turkey’s actions and continues to monitor the situation with regard to Varosha in the context also of Ankara’s declared interest for a positive agenda with the EU.
As opposed to how Ankara behaves, we remain fully committed to regional cooperation that upholds International Law and the principle of good neighborly relations and together with all like-minded partners in the region and beyond we shall continue to steadily empower and advance this track. Let me be clear, we do not exclude Turkey or any other country from this cooperation, provided that Ankara will show in practice that it respects International Law and the principle of good neighborly relations and that it stops interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the region.
A conference is scheduled to be held next April to find a solution to the Cyprus issue. What is the basis for resolving this issue from your point of view?
The basis is enshrined in the relevant United Nations Resolutions which provide that a Cyprus settlement must be based on a State of Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded, and comprising two politically equal communities as described in the relevant Security Council resolutions, in a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation. Such a settlement must be in line with EU principles and values, and must exclude union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession. Let me also underline the importance of upholding the existing “body of work” accomplished through the previous rounds of negotiations, which comprises the prior convergences, the Joint Declaration of February 2014 and the UN Secretary General’s framework, as presented during the last round of talks in Crans Montana. We hope that with the necessary political will and commitment, the political process can be put on track towards a comprehensive solution at the earliest.
How do you regard the United Nations peace initiative on the island?
We are grateful to the United Nations for their long standing support to the efforts for a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem and for the peacekeeping role in Cyprus through the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). We earnestly hope that the upcoming meeting under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary General will chart the way for the resumption of meaningful, results oriented negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem, based on the principles I have described.
What is your vision for the broader region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East? To what extent do you think that this vision is shared by other countries in the region?
I adamantly believe that despite the turmoil and confrontation that often dominates the narrative for the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, in recent years there is a wave of change, a different narrative written by the region for the region. It is only natural after all, that we, the countries of the region, should collectively play a decisive role in what goes on in our neighbourhood.
The driving force behind this new dynamic is a common vision countries of the region share, one of peace, stability and prosperity through building bridges, synergies and cooperation. That is the basic premise behind the positive agenda, inclusive regional cooperation mechanisms established. These cooperation mechanisms that were initiated as a result of the energy developments in our seas, proliferated into an array of other areas including security, innovation, technology, health. The value of these mechanisms has being acknowledged by the EU and many other countries. The decision to establish a Permanent Secretariat in Nicosia to coordinate and follow implementation of decisions taken is indicative of their momentum. The same applies to the establishment of the EMGF, which is a game-changer for the region.
As I have already mentioned, no country is excluded a priori from these cooperation fora; the only prerequisite is that countries respect good neighourly relations, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries and abide by International Law.
* Interview given to journalist Mohamed Elkazaz