Could you begin by telling us about the recent changes in foreign policy that you have been involved with?
First of all, the motto of our foreign policy is to be a credible partner within the European Union. We want to follow the EU’s positions and bring added value to its common foreign and security policy. This is the policy within the network of relations that we have established in the Mediterranean region. This also includes the Arab world and other countries in the region. We’ve had a number of achievements so far, such as several high-level exchanges of diplomatic visits, including the recent visit of the president of Egypt. Egypt for us is a very important country, as we consider it the pillar of stability in this part of the world. Israel is another important country in terms of stability against the asymmetric threats that this part of the world faces. We have a great affinity with Lebanon and its people. Jordan and all the countries of the Arab peninsula are also important neighbors. We hope that Libya finds its way toward stability, as it is difficult to have the same level of relations with its government as we used to. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are also very important to us. Our foreign policy is grounded in our geographic position and we consider ourselves a frontline member of the European Union and the Western world. As we are located in a turbulent neighborhood, our responsibilities are greater for two reasons. First, we must observe the decisions of the international community (restrictions, sanctions, embargoes, etc.). In this regard we have a very good record. Recently, we have intercepted a lot of contraband and have prevented the proliferation of weapons. Second, we are very active in the fight against terrorism. We have succeeded here recently due to our network of cooperation with security services in other countries, both from the region and the big powers. This works very well. It is very important that the network of information works in such a way that we are alerted of a threat so that we can immediately respond. Of course, being a member of the European Union, which is part of the Western world, we belong to its architecture of security. We also keep excellent relations with Russia and China, as they are permanent members of the UN Security Council. The case of Cyprus is brought before the Security Council twice every year, so it is important that we maintain good relations with all of its permanent members. At this time, security is a crucial issue.
Could you tell us more about Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Cyprus yesterday? I suppose it has to do with oil and gas.
Yes, it has to do with oil and gas, as it is one of two important geopolitical policy issues. We have been gifted with the presence of natural gas in the Levantine Sea and the eastern Mediterranean in general. Therefore, working together with the other countries in the region is paramount. We have agreements that delimit the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus with Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. They have similar agreements among themselves—apart from the disputes between Israel in Lebanon. Our location allows us to become the common denominator for all these countries. Our vision is to transform the natural gas that lies in the Mediterranean in the same way that the founding fathers of the European Union have transformed coal and steel into a common factor of stability and peace for countries that were previously enemies. If we persistently promote having good relations with everybody and become partners in the eastern Mediterranean, I am sure we will resolve our disputes. For instance, we are trying to resolve our dispute with Turkey, as it has a place in this cooperation, along with everybody else. A lot is at stake. There is also the Middle East problem, and Syria and Lebanon. Therefore, the issue of natural gas can positively change the context of peace and stability in the whole region. The other reason for Mr. Netanyahu’s visit was our strategic partnership to improve the security of this region. Our partnership is independent of Israel’s problems with its Arab neighbors; nevertheless, we can aid Israel in the fight against terrorism in terms of proliferation and jihadism.
Can we now focus on Cyprus’s new relationship with China? We spoke with many businessmen here who are trying to bring the Chinese market to Cyprus. From the ministry’s point of view, what is changing in that relationship?
Nothing is changing actually, as our relationship with China has always been excellent. From a political point of view, there is no impediment to this good relationship. We are trying to cultivate bilateral relations that will allow the private sector to increase its ability to work with these markets. I have recently visited Japan and I intend to visit several important countries in the region. In September, we will host the deputy foreign minister of Vietnam, and will very likely meet with a head of state by the end of the year. But, of course, China is the most important relationship in Asia
Can you tell us about how important your relationship is with the United States?
We are making great progress in our relations with the United States. In 2014, Vice President Biden made a historic visit to Cyprus. We are proud of the fact that the State Department is now calling us a strategic partner. The security considerations have brought us closer together. Yet there is still a great effort to improve our economic interests by attracting the American business community. This is more difficult because our economy collapsed two years ago and it was followed by a period of recession. But, two years later, we are recovering and our markets are now growing. Our banking system has been recapitalized and stabilized. American capital (from Wilbur Ross and another company) has stabilized our two major banks. These banks are doing very well—so well that they no longer need foreign capital. I think that we need to focus on attracting investment. This is the time for the biggest opportunities for investors, as the economy is now rapidly growing and the profit margins are high.
For America, politics and economics go hand in hand. In the case of Israel, we saw how it rebuilt its diplomatic relations after the war through economic partnerships. I see something similar happening in Cyprus with its neighbors.
That’s right. This is very important. It gives us satisfaction when we go to the Foreign Affairs Council that we can speak with confidence about bringing an important contribution to the relations in this part of the world. We are also preserving our interests as neighbors. Through these shared economic interests, we are able to have a dialogue with these countries about sensitive issues such as human rights and democracy.
How was your career here in the ministry?
Well, paradoxically, I am a medical doctor. I was then elected into the Cypriot parliament and since then I have been drawn more and more into politics. I was appointed foreign minister in 1993—serving until 2003. Then, I was elected twice to the European Parliament. Two years ago, when Mr. Anastasiades was elected president, I returned to the post of foreign minister. Yet I hope to end my political career soon.
You must have done a good job as foreign minister, since they reappointed you.
Well, I continued my work in foreign affairs within the European Parliament; I was the spokesman of my group in the Foreign Affairs Committee. I like foreign affairs, as it is not just an abstract question of geopolitical relations, but one that must be translated into a practical reality.
Your country has a strategic location in the region. It’s so complex…
Well, yes. In historical terms, our location was a strategic location for the many conquerors. Then, when international order prevailed, perhaps we didn’t count so much at first. But yes, now we do.
Thank you, Mr. Kasoulides, for meeting with us.