Washington DC (5 June)

keynote address at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum.

At the outset, I wish to extend my warmest thanks to the leadership of the American Jewish Committee � my friends John Shapiro, and David Harris – both for their strong, consistent, and personal interest in Cyprus, and for their invitation to be the keynote speaker. I also thank Stanley Bergman for his kind words.

Your invitation tonight testifies to a deeply rooted friendship, and recognizes the incredible potential of the strategic ties among Cyprus, Israel and the United States, the effects of which serve not only our countries, but also the vital and volatile Eastern Mediterranean.

Prior to detailing the strategic partnerships we have developed in the Eastern Mediterranean, allow me this very personal remark: both I, and my delegation, know that we are amongst true friends of Cyprus tonight. And we are grateful for that.

When David Harris visited Cyprus this past February, he reminded me of Winston Churchill’s insightful, and in many ways prophetic, commentary on Greeks and Jews, in his 1951 book Closing of the Ring. One of Churchill’s acute observations was the following:

No two races have set such mark upon the world. Both have shown a capacity for survival, in spite of unending perils and sufferings from external oppressors The passage of several thousand years sees no change in their characteristics and no diminution of their original vitalityTheir messages in religion, philosophy and art have been the main guiding lights of modern faith and culture.

A key characteristic of our two peoples is eloquently touched upon in this extract: our sheer resilience in the face of adversity and hardship; the perseverance and ardor of our communities as they strive to progress.

Cypriots and Jews share a history that we in Cyprus treasure and respect immensely. Cypriots and Jews have interacted with each other, and prospered since time immemorial. Cyprus’ name in Hebrew, ‘Kafricin’ (?a-f??-s??), is the sole country mentioned in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud. In the Ottoman era, after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, Sephardic Jews sought refuge in Ottoman lands and made Cyprus their home.

Cyprus also played a small yet significant role in the history of modern Israel. From 1946 to 1949, the British navy intercepted waves of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe and the abominable horror of the Holocaust, and established internment camps in Cyprus, where thousands of these Jewish refugees were held. During this period approximately 53,000 Jews were detained in Cyprus, while during the same period, 2,200 children were born in Cyprus.

The Cypriot people, also victims of British colonial policy, moved by the drama of the Jewish refugees, and inspired by their determination to create a better life for themselves, helped them in their efforts to escape the British, and to continue their journey to Israel.

This bond, which has been revived during the past year marking the 70th anniversary from the opening of the refugee camps in Cyprus, represents the natural affinity between our peoples, which was strengthened by our respective quest for survival.

These ties have evolved into an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two countries in recent years, based on a common vision for a stable and secure future in a region where peace and stability still remain an elusive commodity.

Indeed, as friends of Cyprus you can recognize that the fate of Cyprus lies in its geopolitical value. In fact, in the past few years, our foreign policy priority has been to unleash the capacity of Cyprus to act as a geopolitical bridge, and as a generator of security and stability.

In a region and in a world marked by the rise of turmoil and asymmetrical threats, such as terrorism, Cyprus and Israel � two democratic, stable countries at the heart of the volatile Eastern Mediterranean � have proven to be reliable, trustworthy, valuable partners of the West in the Middle East.

The American Jewish Committee was one of the pioneers, one of the visionaries, who long before others realized the potential of Cyprus’ partnership with Israel. The AJC understood the incredible promise that our partnership with Israel holds � not only for Cyprus and Israel, but also for the United States of America, for transatlantic relations, and for the region.

We all agree that actions speak so much louder than words. And the actions of the AJC through the years, as well as tonight’s event, provide the most acute proof of the partnership among Cyprus, Israel, and the USA.

Your contribution, through the AJC, which for more than a century, has been a leading global advocacy organization, has played a central role in bringing to the forefront the added value of the partnership among Cyprus, Israel, Greece, and the United States. And for that Cyprus is deeply grateful.

Testament to AJC’s results-oriented advocacy, is the leading role the AJC played in 2013 in the creation of the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance. The Alliance has not only institutionalized the quadrilateral relations among the four countries, but is also proactive in further deepening these partnerships in a tangible manner.

I was honored and humbled to receive the Light Unto the Nations Award just last September. And I am proud to say that during the months that have passed we have diligently worked towards elevating the Cyprus – Israel partnership even further: we have boosted our dynamic political relations through more than 40 bilateral high-level meetings. We have also taken our dynamic trilateral partnership with Greece to the next level.

Likewise, we are visibly committed to each other’s security through our growing defense and security cooperation via numerous large joint exercises, and a constant exchange of visits from high-level delegations by our respective Ministries of Defense.

And, of course, we Cypriots will never forget that last June Israeli firefighting planes were in Cyprus within minutes after we requested assistance, to battle the terrible fires that broke out on the island. We are proud that we reciprocated last November by sending 80 firefighters to battle the rage of nature, side-by-side with their Israeli colleagues, over the hills of Jerusalem to Haifa. What better proof of the closeness, the reciprocal solidarity, and of course the sound friendship between Cyprus and Israel.

Our closeness extends to more than geography, to the delineated sea border that we share. The inherent purpose, and aim of this bilateral collaboration lies in what the Cypriot and Israeli public have in common. Our similarity of democratic values and stability, as reliable partners, and part of the Western nexus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Regretfully the threats on our common doorstep are many and on the rise: the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, tragically shocking us in Nice, Brussels, Paris, Manchester, Cairo, or even on American soil; ISIL activities on the rise � including in North Africa, the Sinai Peninsula, and in Gaza; nuclear proliferation; the situation in Syria with a looming threat of a spill-over; Iraq, as well as Hezbollah’s extensive terrorist network.

In this context let me state the obvious: any rhetoric that in any way turns against Israel, or the Jewish people, any hint alluding to ‘Boycott – Divestment – Sanctions’, and any trace of incitement is deplorable. Make no mistake, Cyprus condemns it fully and unequivocally.

I should also note that we will continue to be very vocal in publicly condemning any destabilizing regional action, and urging the pursuit of good neighborly relations, and the respect of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.

Likewise, our position is that the possible weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program is a direct threat to national security, and entails the danger of sparking a nuclear arms race in the greater Middle East.

This common language enables us to stand by each other as we face the scourge of terrorism and so many attacks against our common values.

It is precisely this shared value base that forms the heart of our bilateral cooperation with Israel and with the United States.

We can effectively address the asymmetrical threats we face only if we are united, by forging more synergies, closer cooperation between moderate partners in the region, and by conveying the message that we stand united against the threats we face.

The stronger our ties, the stronger we are in countering these challenges. It is in our own strategic interests, but also in the interests of the West � of Europe and the United States, who can count on two stable, reliable allies as hubs of cooperation amidst a circle of instability and volatility.

Ultimately, for Israel, Cyprus is invaluable in contributing to its strategic depth. We need each other, perhaps like never before. Cyprus will stand by Israel. If Israel ever requests Cyprus’ assistance � whether it is for fighting fires, or more serious emergencies � Cyprus will prove itself to be a reliable partner.

Let me reiterate this message: the Jewish people, like all people, have the right to a secure homeland, to live in security in their own homeland and enjoy good relations with their neighbours.

While I refer to extremism, I wish to make a special reference to a cause that is very close to my heart: combatting anti-Semitism, the multi-faceted evil that is on the rise. No one can underestimate the serious repercussions it has on our democracy, security, and safety � in Europe, the United States, and beyond.

Recognizing that anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society, and remembering the thousands of Jews who passed through Cyprus following the horrors of World War II, Cyprus has concretely supported the fight against anti-Semitism.

Cypriot cities have shown particular sensitivity, and resoundingly heeded AJC’s call and signed the Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism statement. Rest assured that Cyprus will continue to be an uncompromising shield against anti-Semitism.

A primary objective of my Government since assuming office has been to transform Cyprus’ geography � which in many ways has been a curse over our history � into a blessing. Cyprus’ greatest geopolitical value is as a bridge; a role which in one way or another Cyprus has always played throughout its long history.

Cyprus actively promotes a positive agenda in EU-Israeli relations, contributing in a constructive dialogue and trust-building in Arab-Israeli relations, promoting concretely closer cooperation between countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus acts as a bridge, as a mediator, and as an ambassador for Israel.

Likewise, we support the efforts to create a conducive environment, and steps on the ground for direct and meaningful negotiations in the Israeli � Palestinian conflict, and stand by the ongoing comprehensive effort led by the United States for a viable resolution that will safeguard Israel’s existence and ensure stability and security for all parties concerned.

Our partnership with Israel is by definition a progressive and inclusive one, and open to all that share our constructive geostrategic vision, away from gunboat diplomacy. We have also welcomed the resumption of good relations between Israel and Turkey. We have never viewed our relations with other countries as a zero-sum game.

As a country with excellent relations with Israel, and our other neighbours, we are actively involved in fostering greater cooperation and a positive agenda between our neighboring partners and the EU, for example through the trilateral cooperation mechanisms established with Israel and Greece, with Egypt, Jordan, but also with Lebanon and the Palestinians.

With Israel, over the last two years, we have steadily cultivated a wide web of practical trilateral structures through our close cooperation with Greece, which serves as a pilot project of a stability bridge between Europe and the Middle East, running across the Eastern Mediterranean. I am particularly pleased to inform you that next week in Thessaloniki, I will be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Tsipras, in the framework of our trilateral cooperation.

Our efforts with Israel and Greece range on issues including the critical areas of security and defence, but also energy, and other sectoral areas. Our guiding principles is that we have much to gain and much to offer to each other, but also to the Free World, which can rely on us as part of the Western nexus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

AJC has consistently supported this trilateral cooperation from its inception. We thank you for that, and we look forward to further collaboration with AJC as we take this trilateral mechanism further.

I would like to pay particular attention to the area of energy.

The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves has opened new horizons, both for our bilateral relations with Israel, but also for the region, and we are working with determination to realize this potential to the benefit of our countries, and of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Natural gas could prove to be a catalyst for broader regional cooperation � this is a goal also promoted by the United States. Moreover, the discoveries assist Cyprus and Israel towards gaining energy independence, diversifying energy sources and thus contributing to the EU’s energy security; this is an objective also shared by the United States.

Following the meetings of the Energy Ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Italy this April in Tel Aviv, giving political backing to the EASTMED project in the presence of the EU Commissioner of Energy, we reconfirmed that the discovery of important hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean can, and should become a catalyst for alliances at a regional level.

We consider that the involvement of American and other energy giants is indicative of the immense potential of our region in the field of energy. It also adds an important parameter to our bilateral relations with the United States.

We have in fact actively encouraged cooperation with American companies; Noble Energy has made the first discovery of natural gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and Exxon Mobil, with Qatar Petroleum, now have an exploration license and a production sharing contract.

Geostrategic cooperation can serve as a perfect motive for the resolution of the Cyprus problem 43 years after the illegal Turkish military invasion, and the continuing illegal occupation of 37% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

A viable solution to the Cyprus problem would amplify the island’s bridging capacity, and would mark a paradigm shift in bringing about peace and stability in our region. This would certainly serve the interests of our key neighboring partners such as Israel, as well as Jordan and Egypt. It is for this reason that efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement that will reunify Cyprus and its people, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, has been at the top of my agenda.

My primary aim remains a viable, functional, comprehensive settlement, one that will safeguard Cyprus’ independent foreign policy based on and committed to Western values, and not turn Cyprus into a proxy of any third country.

A viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem would obviously be in the interests of the United States and Israel. For the good of regional stability, Cyprus needs to remain an independent state and continue to function as a reliable partner in the region; fostering peace, prosperity and a sense of security among all Cypriots.

The United States, recognizing the benefits for Cyprus but also for the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, and indeed the West, has been an active supporter of our efforts to achieve a reunified, viable state, through a solution that will amplify Cyprus’ role as a strategic partner.

We look to the new administration � and we count on the AJC’s continued support in this regard – to achieve this goal.

I have just come from New York, where I accepted an invitation by the UN Secretary General to meet with him and with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, in an effort to overcome the challenges we face in the reunification negotiations, and in order to take the process forward.

It is of utmost importance to remain committed to the continuation of this dialogue, and work with determination to reunify the island and to serve the true interests of the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots.

At the same time, we hope that Turkey, a country that aspires to be recognized as a regional leader, will rise to the occasion. We expect Turkey to deliver on its verbal commitments, and to contribute tangibly to the process � this is key to have a successful outcome, especially on the vital chapters of security and guarantees.

I truly believe that our vision for a reunited Cyprus can be fulfilled, if all stakeholders demonstrate the same degree of commitment.

On our own part, I want to assure you that we are determined to rise to the challenge of our historic responsibility and to do our utmost with the aim of providing a more stable, prosperous and reconciliatory future in the region.

I stand before you, deeply grateful for your support and friendship, and I make this solemn promise.

Cyprus will remain committed to our common vision, and our shared values; we will continue to build bridges, working side by side with all of you, with Israel and the United States in strengthening this indispensable alliance of stability and cooperation we have built: for the benefit of our peoples, and of the wider Middle East region.

We know well, in our minds and in our hearts, that Cyprus can count on your unwavering support to our cause, and to our collective effort.

Let me assure you that you can always count on Cyprus.

Thank you.

Source: Press and Information Office