The situation in the Middle East

Mr. President,

My delegation associated itself with the statement of the European Union. In view of the special significance we attach to the Middle East situation I would like to make a few additional comments and observations. The long and rich history of Cyprus has been greatly influenced by developments in the Middle East. Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, my country has, throughout the centuries, been a bridge between the peoples of the Middle East and Europe. While seeking to maintain and strengthen our ties with the European Union, with which we have begun substantive accession negotiations, the promotion of our relations with all our neighbors in the Middle East also remains a significant pillar of our foreign policy.

My Government supports all the initiatives and efforts aiming at finding a comprehensive solution to the Middle East problem. We reaffirm our support for the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 which provide the framework for a viable peace in the Middle East. At the same time, we recognize the right of all States to exist in peace with their neighbors within safe and internationally recognized borders. We denounce, in the strongest terms, terrorism and violence against innocent civilians. Following closely developments in the Middle East and conscious of the precarious nature of the peace process, we have been highlighting the need to redouble the efforts for the successful outcome of the process upon which millions of people, both in the region and internationally, have pinned great hopes.

The Cyprus Government has welcomed the recent agreement at the Wye Plantation. We commended the parties for their agreement, the U.S. Administration and President Clinton in particular as well as King Hussein of Jordan for their efforts in achieving this breakthrough. We have been encouraged by the steps taken for the implementation of the agreement, including the recent opening of the Gaza International Airport. At the same time, the breakthrough shows this when there is political will on the part of the sides and sustained international efforts and influence, regional conflicts can be resolved. We hold this to be true also in the case of the Cyprus problem.

The Government of Cyprus remains committed to playing its part in a practical way, to the enhancement of the peace process. In this regard, we express our belief that in order to have stability, the agreements between the parties should be fully implemented. There is no other way for stability in that sensitive region than a peaceful solution through negotiations, reconciliation, trust and cooperation.

For this to happen, it is essential to avoid measures which place obstacles to the implementation of the peace process, including the closures of Palestinian territories and the building of settlements which make it more difficult to move the peace process forward. At the same time, the economic advancement of the Palestinian people remains a determining factor for stability and ultimate rapprochement in the Middle East. For this reason the Government of Cyprus prepared a special programme of economic assistance to the Palestinian people, at a cost of about 2.2 million dollars, which is currently being implemented. The programme includes training of one hundred Palestinian officials in Cyprus, follow-up visits by Cypriot experts and the building of two medical centers.

While we consider the Palestinian problem as the core issue of the Middle East conflict, we support the resumption of the negotiations between Israel and Syria and the opening of talks between Israel and Lebanon. A fundamental element of our position in the Middle East is the withdrawal of foreign forces from the occupied territories. Cyprus offered to host any meeting which may be convened within the context of the bilateral negotiations. This offer remains open. It is recalled that Cyprus has been chosen as the seat of the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group. It is also noteworthy that the European Union's Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador Moratinos, has chosen Cyprus as his seat in the area.

Mr. President,

The prospect of a peaceful and prosperous Middle East is a vision cherished by all. It cannot be secured by unilateral actions, violence or military build-up but by a common vision of a better future through economic progress, stability and social justice. It is the hope of my country that this dream will not be lost.

Thank you, Mr. President.