RIYADH: The Cypriot Foreign Minister, Nikos Christodoulides, has slammed Turkey for “promoting its interests through gunboat diplomacy” with its energy exploration off the coast of Cyprus.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News during a visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Christodoulides centered his attack on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying relations with all its neighbors had suffered under his leadership.
“When President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan was first elected, Turkey’s relations with other countries were very different. Turkey had no problems with its neighbors,” Christodoulides said.
“How quickly things have changed in the past eight years. We end up today with (Turkey) having problems with all its neighbors. At the same time, we can’t change geography. We can’t change our neighbors. But we are in a position and we are ready to discuss all issues at the negotiation table.”
Christodoulides told Arab News Cyprus had signed a maritime borders agreement with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel based on international law and 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, but when the country asked Turkey to talk and agree on maritime zones, Ankara refused.
“I’m wondering if Turkey feels so comfortable with its position. Why do they refuse to discuss with Cyprus, a member of the EU and the UN?” he asked.
Turkey’s President Erdogan received international condemnation in 2020 when a Turkish oil exploration vessel was sent, with a naval escort, into Greek territorial waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan again prompted global outrage when he then made a controversial visit to the Turkish enclave later in the year.
During that visit Erdogan demanded a “two-state solution” for the divided island and vowed to continue the oil exploration.
Cyprus is split between the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member that controls the southern two thirds, and the northern third occupied by Turkey since 1974.
Only Ankara recognizes Northern Cyprus as an independent state, and it is largely shunned by the international community.
Christodoulides is in the region visiting Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Discussions on regional security are among the highlights of his visit, including meetings with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan.
“We looked at how we can enhance our cooperation because security is an issue of concern for all of us,” Christodoulides said.
“We discussed ways to enhance regional cooperation, not just with the UAE and Saudi Arabia but also with Egypt and Greece,” he said, adding that like-minded countries in the region were coming together in order to face the challenges “and to discuss the economic and investment opportunities that we have.”
“What I want out of this visit (to the UAE and Saudi Arabia) is to present the right narrative and the right picture to my colleagues in Brussels. Sometimes during our discussions in the EU and in Brussels, I get the impression that they don’t know the region.”
Christodoulides said that it was also important to “send a common message” to the new Biden administration in the US.
“We have common challenges, common threats, but at the same time our region is not the same as it used to be during the Obama administration. We see a lot of people from the Obama administration coming back to key positions. So we need to send them the same message in order to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
Christodoulides praised Saudi Arabia for its growing role in resolving regional issues.
“More and more countries are coming to understand that no solution can be found in the region without Saudi Arabia playing a leading role in the efforts,” he said.
“It was something we believed in from the very beginning, and we are glad that more countries are understanding this reality,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and Cyprus reopened embassies in their respective capitals four years ago.
Christodoulides said his country had seen a “vast number of achievements” as a result of working together at a bilateral, regional and EU level during that time, including the updating of agreements on air traffic, which he described as a major development.
Calling for greater dialogue and mediation to promote the interests of the region, he added: “Cyprus is a member of the EU, but at the same time we are a country of the region and what we want to do is to raise awareness in Brussels about the region and especially about Saudi Arabia. A lot of times I feel that the Europeans don’t know the region — they talk about the region, but they don’t really know it.”
Speaking of the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, Christodoulides said: “I can see it on the faces of the people and, for me, this is most important. I am amazed by the changes in the country.”