Great opportunity to solve Cyprus: Obama
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks during his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.U.S. President Barack Obama and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have given optimistic outlook over the stalled talks in the divided island of Cyprus.
“There’s a great opportunity as we speak for the decades-long conflict and tensions that exist in Cyprus to be resolved, and I think we’re both encouraged by the messages that have been coming out of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. And we’re going to be I think working very closely together to see if we can make progress on those fronts,” Obama said after meeting with Samaras at the White House on Aug. 8.
Numerous rounds of peace talks in the last four decades have ended in failure. The latest round that began in 2008 under U.N. envoy Alexander Downer stalled in May last year amid mutual recriminations over who was responsible for the stalemate. Downer recently said it would be a “major mistake” for the international community to take advantage of Greek Cypriots’ current financial crisis to pressure them into a deal reunifying the island.
For his part, Samaras said there’s a lot of synergies that they can have together in order to try and solve as much as they can those problems, including the problem of Cyprus. “I would also like to say that I told the President that we have found huge energy resources in a critical region. Cyprus, Israel and Greece can realign those resources in order to be able to satisfy the European demand, especially for natural gas,” Samaras said.
Greek Cyprus, Greece and Israel signed a deal on the same day to cooperate over energy and aiming at securing Europe’s energy supply. A memorandum of understanding was signed by Greek Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis, his Greek counterpart Yannis Maniatis and Israel’s Silvan Shalom. Natural gas has been discovered offshore Israel and Greek Cyprus, and studies are underway on building a liquefied natural gas plant in Greek Cyprus.
Obama also called for more growth-oriented policies in Greece, saying the austerity has not been adequate to revive the country’s battered economy. Obama said he was confident in his visitor’s commitment to much-needed reforms.
“What we also agreed to, is that in dealing with the challenges that Greece faces, we cannot simply look at austerity for a strategy,” Obama said. “It’s important that we have a plan for fiscal consolidation to manage the debt,” he told reporters.
“But it’s also important that growth and jobs are our focus, because we know from history that those countries that have growth, countries where employment is high... people have an easier time easing the debt burdens than countries where people are feeling hopeless,” Obama added. Greece has struggled to meet targets set by the bailout program, which require it to boost tax collection, sell off state assets, and pare back government to narrow its deficit and cut borrowing needs.