Press Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus

Press Conference
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Nicosia, Cyprus
July 13, 2012

Date: 07/13/2012 Description: Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phillip H. Gordon participates in a press conference in Nicosia, Cyprus. - State Dept Image

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, Andrew. It really is good to be back here in this room. It’s nice of you all to come out on a Friday evening to take the time to ask a few questions and talk about my visit here.

I am indeed on the end of a long tour throughout Europe culminating very nicely here. I started the day, actually, in Paphos in the context of the Cypriot-EU presidency. I meet regularly with EU counterparts, the political directors of all the EU countries in each new presidency, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to go down to Paphos for those meetings today and I congratulated Cyprus on the presidency.

Then here in Nicosia I was able to have a number of official bilateral meetings with President Christofias, with Foreign Minister Marcoullis, with Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu. I also met DISY party leader Anastasiades and had a good afternoon exchanging views on not just the Cyprus issue itself but regional issues and global issues as well.

I was honored to participate in the exchange of letters with the Foreign Minister. Maybe some of you were there for that -- an exchange of letters of a Memorandum of Understanding on protecting Cyprus’ rich cultural heritage. We extended it for another five years. It was originally signed in 2002 and it’s been extended several times and it’s our contribution to this really important task of preserving Cyprus’ cultural artifacts.

My message to the parties here was one that the United States has presented for some time.

We’re obviously very interested in seeing a solution to the Cyprus problem. We regret that there hasn’t been more progress over the past years because we think that both sides would benefit from an agreement on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and we’ll continue to urge the parties to negotiate seriously in our support for the UN, the direct Cypriot-led talks that are taking place under UN auspices.

Much more I could say, but maybe it’s easier to turn it over to you all and see what’s on your mind and I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Is the United States in favor of imposing any deadlines into the negotiations process? Don’t you think that time is running out? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Obviously we would like to see a solution as soon as possible. If you ask me when the target should be for a comprehensive settlement, it really is as soon as possible. That’s different from saying there needs to be a deadline, an artificial deadline, because what would that mean? What would we do if the parties hadn’t agreed by that deadline? In a certain sense there have been a semblance of deadlines frequently over the years and even decades, but then we keep coming back to an effort to find a comprehensive settlement. And why? Because we need one. Because for the communities on the island to prosper and for all of Cyprus to succeed and for this region to be peaceful and prosperous and stable, there needs to be a comprehensive settlement.

So in a sense the deadline is now because with every passing day without a settlement people are not doing as well as they should be and there are risks to regional stability. But we can’t put an artificial time table on it. We can’t force the parties to agree. Ultimately they should agree out of their own mutual interest in doing so and as exhausting as it may be, we’re going to keep trying and lending our support to the process.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you discussed with President Christofias or Mr. Eroglu the issue of natural gas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, I discussed it with both of them and with my other interlocutors throughout the day because it looms so large. I said what we’ve said before which is that the potential natural gas finds around the island are really a potential win/win for all of the communities and citizens of Cyprus and of the region. I think it underscores even more the need for a comprehensive settlement that would entail sharing of the revenues that would come from this development, and it could really facilitate a settlement.

It equally has the potential to be divisive and I was clear with those I spoke to about that as well. There are risks associated with energy finds as there have been in other parts of the world if there is a dispute as to who gets to benefit from that energy and from those resources. So we are strongly urging all of the parties involved, and that’s the Republic of Cyprus, it’s Turkey, it’s Israel, it’s everyone on this island, to work even harder to make the political agreements necessary so that everyone can benefit from the energy.

This really is -- as I say you could focus on or emphasize the risks, but I would prefer to look at it as a huge opportunity. First of all, there are still some questions about what will be found and how long it will take to reap the benefits, but there is in a sense a certain deadline to that process. I would just urge everyone to really think about that and see this as an opportunity for everyone to benefit from.

QUESTION: Short of a political solution to the Cyprus problem, could any other political agreement help facilitate the process of sharing gas and sharing the profits for greater stability in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s up to people here. I think clearly the best way forward is a comprehensive settlement. That would take advantage of these extra resources, as I said before, to pave the way and facilitate all the other aspects of a settlement that you would need to see. If short of that a way can be found for everyone on the island to benefit from the energy resources we certainly wouldn’t stand in the way of that. But given that when you’re developing energy it entails political compromises on how revenues are distributed and taxed and what is done with the energy and who builds the pipeline to carry it somewhere else, you quickly get into all of the other issues surrounding the Cyprus problem. So our strong emphasis is on seeing this become part of a comprehensive settlement, but also a boon to a comprehensive settlement.

Thank you all.