Lebanon, Cyprus agree to begin maritime-border negotiations following Lebanese-Israeli deal
Turkey: the maritime-deal serves as a cooperation model even for Turkish, Greek Cypriots
Cyprus and Lebanon reportedly agreed on Friday to initiate negotiations over their shared maritime border one day following Beirut and Jerusalem’s finalized maritime-border deal.
The stakes are high in the politically fragile eastern Mediterranean as countries compete for potentially lucrative offshore gas fields.
The negotiations between Lebanon and Cyprus are expected to be far less complex than the Lebanese-Israeli negotiations mediated by U.S. special envoy Amos Hochstein, primarily as there is no military or political conflict between Lebanon and Cyprus.
Where Lebanon and Cyprus have full diplomatic relations, Lebanon officially does not recognize Israel’s existence.
“There’s no problem between Lebanon and Cyprus that cannot be resolved easily,” said Cypriot special envoy Tasos Tzionis after a meeting with outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut. “Lebanon is a friendly country; we consider ourselves at home during our presence in this country. We’ve had a friendly and constructive discussion about maritime-border demarcation.”
The Cypriot envoy expressed optimism that “after the technical work today, we will settle all the demarcation issues, which is not a difficult task.”
He noted that after Cyprus and Lebanon have both launched exploration work into the Mediterranean’s natural gas fields, “the timing [for a maritime-border agreement] is very appropriate.”
Aoun appeared to share the envoy’s assessment of the Cyprus-Lebanon relations: “There is no need for a mediator between Lebanon and Cyprus because we are neighboring and friendly countries, and this makes our task easy,” Aoun said with a barely veiled reference to the recent complex American-mediated negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.
Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of the Lebanese parliament, was much more explicit in making the distinction: “The cooperation with Cyprus is not like the cooperation with the Israelis, the enemy state.”
Cyprus and Lebanon reportedly reached a maritime-border deal in 2007; however, it did not go into force because the Lebanese parliament never ratified it. Cyprus enjoys good relations with both Israel and Lebanon and could play a role in improving long-term Lebanese-Israeli ties following their focused investment in the maritime region.
While Cyprus has strained relations with Turkey following the latter’s invasion of the island in 1974, the Turkish government welcomed the Lebanese-Israeli maritime agreement and hailed it as a model for Cyprus.
“We welcome the maritime-boundary delimitation agreement signed today [Oct. 27] between Lebanon and Israel, with the mediation of the United States, as a result of indirect talks. We hope that this agreement will contribute to peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean, already facing a number of challenges,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in an official statement.
“This model, which reflects similar practices in the world, sets a good example for the region and in particular for the Turkish and Greek Cypriots,” the foreign ministry in Ankara stated, speaking of the ethnically and geographically divided population of the island nation.
The Turkish foreign ministry gave an example from last July: “… the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus made a cooperation proposal to the Greek Cypriot side based on a joint-development approach through determining equitable revenue sharing percentages, without prejudice to the existing rights of international oil companies, and offered to establish a joint committee for this purpose.”
The Turkish military invaded Cyprus in 1974 after the Greek army tried to unite the ethnically and religiously divided Mediterranean island. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared its independence; however, only Turkey recognizes it, while the international community seeks to unite the divided island.
Israel recently upgraded its relations with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently becoming the first Israeli defense minister to visit Turkey in more than a decade.