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Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez blasts Turkey’s treatment of Cyprus on US Senate Floor

By on December 24, 2014

On December 16, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, long-time friend of Cyprus and Greece, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), blasted Turkey’s blatant violations of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone speaking on the floor of the United States Senate. Following is the full text of these remarks:

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Turkish invasion. We hoped that it would have brought a fair settlement to the Cyprus question, that it would have brought an end to 40 year long occupation and division of the island by Turkey. There is always cause for optimism and room for faith that the realization of a reunified Cyprus is in the near future. Global and regional dynamics have made the reunification of Cyprus a priority — driven, in part, by Cyprus’ newly found energy resources. This is particularly true in light of Russia’s Machiavellian-like power plays in central Europe that have placed Cyprus and Israel at the forefront of the discussion of European energy security. The natural resources that have been discovered this year in the Eastern Mediterranean offer both Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike a powerful incentive to reach an agreement — and if an agreement could be reached, Cyprus could play a pivotal role in regional energy security.

But the dynamics have again changed — which is why I rise today to express my grave concern over the Republic of Turkey’s incursion into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). On October 20th, Turkey sent a research vessel, the Barbaros, into Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone — to stop the government of Cyprus from exercising its lawful and sovereign right to explore the natural gas within its Exclusive Economic Zone. In the days following, Turkey dispatched warships to support the Barbaros in its illegal activities, where they remain to this day. This incident is merely the latest in a long series of violations on the part of Turkey against Cyprus’ sovereign right to explore and exploit its natural resources within its own Exclusive Economic Zone. Turkey, of course, also illegally occupies with 40,000 Turkish troops the northern portion of the island and has for forty years prevented any meaningful reconciliation efforts.This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the position of the Turkish ships in red. They are sitting between the island of Cyprus and its own ships in its own EEZ.

Mr. President, there is no doubt in my mind that Turkey’s actions have endangered peace talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that began in February with a joint-communique issued by the two communities. That communique committed to finding a durable solution based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality. But, because of Turkey’s bullying tactics, peace talks are now on hold. For peace talks to resume, Turkey must immediately withdraw its ships operating in and around Cyprus. The international community has been abundantly clear in supporting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in recognizing Cyprus’s right to explore the resources within its Economic Zone and in condemning Turkey for this blatant violation.

On November 13, The European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly condemning Turkey’s “illegal and provocative actions” in Cyprus, stressing that “the Republic of Cyprus has the full and sovereign right to explore the natural resources within its EEZ.” Turkey’s recent actions in Cyprus are only one instance of its belligerent and bellicose rhetoric and backsliding on peace and democracy.

In recent weeks, President Erdoğan and his cabinet have used unusually belligerent and anti-Western rhetoric to attack the West. He actually said — and, Mr. President, I am amazed at this rhetoric: “Americans look like friends but they want us dead — they like seeing our children die.” He also said: “Women are not equal to men. Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood,” Erdoğan, said at a summit in Istanbul on justice for women. He went on to say: “Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.” He even went so far as to say that Muslims discovered America not Columbus. He has vowed to make lessons in the Arabic-alphabet Ottoman language compulsory in high schools — a highly symbolic move which enraged secularists who claim he is pursuing an increasingly extremist agenda. These statements — along with Turkey’s illegal actions in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone — are a dramatic escalation of Turkey shifting away from democracy and its partners in the West. And — in my view — it requires an immediate and forceful response.

The Cypriot people need a strong voice on this issue. They need us to urge President Erdoğan to immediately withdraw from Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone so reunification talks can resume. Cyprus’ leaders deserve credit for trying to change dynamics and return to talks. They also deserve credit for being an ally and advocate of American interests. Cyprus’ active role in supporting counter-terrorism efforts, terror financing, and in the removal of chemical weapons from Syria have not gone unnoticed.

Cyprus is clearly positioning itself as a part of the western security architecture and is a resource, advocate, and an ally for our interests. These developments have led the White House to play an active role on behalf of Cyprus. And I was very pleased by my former colleague, Vice President Biden’s visit in May and his commitment to resolving the Cyprus question. I share his support for the confidence building measures in Famagusta that would benefit both sides and accelerate progress towards a final settlement where Cypriots control their destiny, and their territory — and where, at the end of the day, any settlement is from the people of Cyprus, by the people of Cyprus, for the people of Cyprus and Cyprus alone.

To that end, I recently sent a letter to President Obama urging his continued engagement on the issue of reunification of the island and the restoration of human rights for all its citizens. I also wrote to Ambassador Power — urging her active involvement in the extension of the island’s UN Peacekeeping operation — and I was pleased when the extension was formalized at the end of July. I hope that President Erdoğan now that his election is behind him, will use this opportunity to play a renewed role in finding a fair settlement. We all appreciate that any progress will depend on a true commitment by the Turks to the peace process. Today, I assure you, as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that the United States is committed to supporting Cyprus as a friend and ally. So, as we mark the 40th year of a divided Cyprus, let us hope and pray that a fair and mutually beneficial settlement will be reached very soon and that, once again, the island will be united.

Thank you very much.”

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