Minister of Foreign Affairs Özdil Nami has attended the ‘Israel Energy and Business Convention 2014’ which is taking place in Tel Aviv between 3-4 November 2014. The full text of his speech is as follows:

 

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Chair Mr. Amit Mor and all those who took part in making this event possible here today about regional cooperation on Hydrocarbon resources.

Recent events in our geography serve as a stark reminder to all of us that traditional power games and the efforts of international organizations or superpowers are not sufficient in dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. The turmoil in the Middle East and the escalation of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean show us more than ever that coordinated efforts of all regional actors are needed to bring peace and stability to our region.

One way to guarantee and maintain such cooperation is the creation of interdependencies through trade agreements and energy transportation networks. Although the current picture in our region may lead us to think otherwise, a more inclusive regional cooperation regarding hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean is not only desirable, but also attainable. In the time that I have I will argue that the key stone which will enable us to build such an arch of cooperation is the resolution of the Cyprus problem.

Distinguished guests,

The recent discoveries of hydrocarbons off the shores of Cyprus, together with other findings in the region may, if we play our cards right, set into motion a series of events that will not only facilitate a comprehensive settlement to the 50 year old Cyprus issue but also result in increased trade, prosperity, interdependence and safety for all in the region. To achieve this what is needed is a new approach that respects the rights and interests of all. Inclusive, as opposed to extractive policies are essential in order to create synergies and steer us away from conflict.

In this regard, lets for a moment concentrate and picture a future whereby unlike today we have a united Cyprus that functions smoothly as a federation between Turkish and Greek Cypriots as called for by the relevant security council resolutions and as well as the agreements reached freely by the leaders of both communities throughout the years.

Internally a Federal Cyprus will be an attractive destination for businesses from around the world as one of the safest places in the region where EU law is applied in its entire territory. United Cyprus will be able to engage in trade with all of its neighbors and unleash the full potential of regional cooperation, including in the field of hydrocarbons. Externally, resolution of the Cyprus issue will enable NATO and the European Union to cooperate on all matters of common concern. Accession negotiations of Turkey with the EU will be revitalized giving a boost to the reform process in that country and enabling all to harmonize not only laws and regulations but also policies vis a vis the region. United Cyprus will make Turkish an official language of the European Union which in itself will have a huge psychological impact in how people identify themselves right now.

As for the hydrocarbons issue, we can clearly see that dealing with a united Cyprus expands the alternatives available for the extraction and transportation of these resources. Alternatives which are simply not available now offer themselves for financial scrutiny and compete with the current ones giving investors better return for their money and consumers cheaper more reliable flow of resources.

So what stands in the way of this world of win-win outcomes? Why are we still in conflict rather than engaged in cooperation?

The answer to this question lies with the recent decisions of the current Greek Cypriot leadership first to reject past convergences achieved between the two sides in Cyprus and more recently to leave the UN led peace talks. We also have the burden of the 50 year old mistake  of the international community to treat an administration composed solely by the elected representatives of the Greek Cypriot Community as the legitimate government of all Cyprus which in the case of hydrocarbons leads interested parties to engage in unilateral projects with the Greek Cypriot side. Such policies damage incentives for reconciliation and compromise and instead give rise to power politics.

As is well known the Republic of Cyprus was established jointly by the Turkish and Greek Cypriots in 1960 with a constitution that ensured political equality between these two communities on island. However since the ousting of the Turkish Cypriots from all organs of the government at gunpoint in 1963, the island of Cyprus does not have a single government that can represent both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. We know sovereignty in Cyprus emanates equally from Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. The latest joint declaration by the leaders of the two communities on 11 February 2014 repeats this fact. It also says neither side can claim authority or jurisdiction over the other. This is not in dispute. What is also not in dispute is the fact that natural resources of Cyprus belong to all Cypriots and must benefit all Cypriots.

So as we don’t have a single legitimate government to speak on behalf of all Cypriots what must be done regarding decisions related to hydrocarbons which belong to all Cypriots?

First option is to intensify the UN led process and finalize a peace agreement as soon as possible. In the meantime we should hold off unilateral steps and wait for the establishment of the federal government, which will have as a competence the management of natural resources. If this is not possible then we have to start cooperating from today through a jointly established institution reflecting the political equality of both sides in its decision making bodies. Such were the proposals of the Turkish Cypriot side to the Greek Cypriots, which were first tabled in 24 September 2011 and then later revised in September 2012 to include the option of exporting the hydrocarbons to EU through Turkey. Both were unfortunately rejected by our Greek Cypriot counterparts.

Even more unfortunate is the recent decision of the Greek Cypriot side to unilaterally withdraw from the comprehensive negotiation talks, citing as an excuse the Turkish issuance of a NAVTEX for the seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, which would conduct seismic surveys on behalf of Turkish Cypriots in areas identified by the Turkish Cypriot government around the island. It is crucial at this point to remember that previously in September 2011, a NAVTEX was again issued by Turkey and another ship named Piri Reis had conducted seismic research on behalf of Turkish Cypriots, after similar unilateral steps were taken by the Greek Cypriots. However the then Greek Cypriot leader did not use this as an excuse to suspend talks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The way out of current stalemate is clear: the Greek Cypriot leadership should return to the table and engage in dialogue so that we can find ways to bridge our differences in all issues, including the issue of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean. Burning the bridges of dialogue serves no other purpose than adding fuel to the fire  in an already tense region.Albert Einstein once famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Here we ask the international community not only to encourage the Greek Cypriot leadership to return to the table but also to start taking decision regarding the future of Cyprus together with his Turkish Cypriot counterparts. The international community should not ignore the inherent rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots on the natural resources around the island and should refrain from actions that would condone or reward the extractive and unilateral steps taken by the Greek Cypriot leadership. We must not allow hydrocarbons to be used as a leverage against one side.

I want to stress this once more: we are ready to seriously engage in talks and exchange views on how we can move forward and work together. Positive steps taken in this matter could pave the way for further cooperation in other fields, such as jointly benefitting from the ongoing undersea water supply project, which aims to transport drinking and irrigation water as well as electricity from Turkey to North Cyprus. Joint endeavors in the area of water and electricity could create even stronger regional interdependencies. As I stated at the beginning of my speech, the possibilities are endless once we can focus on what we can achieve together – and the only way to get started is dialogue.

Thomas Jefferson once said “I like the dream of the future better than the history of the past”. Considering our bitter experiences of the past and comparing that with what future we can create I tend to agree with him. With the good will and leadership of all involved actors, we can make such a prosperous and peaceful future, a reality.

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