No one will win in the East Mediterranean if each party continues to stick to a philosophy of “us against them” and strives for the biggest piece of pie as regards energy resources, US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon told Kathimerini Cyprus in an exclusive interview.
Fannon issued a call to regional players to tone down tensions by refraining from provocative actions, noting that if stability in the region continues to deteriorate, there will be no winners.
“Our request is for peace, dialogue, and for it to be understood that the economic prospects that exist at the moment will cease to exist in the event that tensions continue to escalate,” Fannon said.
Your three-day visit to Cyprus allowed the government in Nicosia to issue a political message to Turkey. What was the main goal of your visit?
I have undertaken initiatives of a global scale on behalf of the US government in various parts of the world, though I have found myself in this region more than in any other. This reaffirms our commitment to the region but also the potential in energy capital. Energy is much more than barrels of BTU [British thermal units] and revenue. It is a prerequisite for economic development and political security and we believe that energy is a possible catalyst of cooperation.
The message we would like to get across is that we continue to support exclusive regional development. One of the reasons for my visit to Cyprus is to begin building on the work of the US secretary of state conducted during his participation at the heads of state summit of the 3+1 [Cyprus, Greece, Israel + USA] last May in Jerusalem. Since then, I have continued these efforts in order to create a work forum dealing with energy. This was the first of a series of technical committees that will take place in all countries of the region. I would like to give assurances that there is a responsible development of energy resources, following the best security protocols. This was the driving force behind my visit.
What’s your take on the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Generally, I see the situation positively. Energy is a necessary and fundamental element. If states manage to acknowledge the importance of energy and to focus on it, independent of any other long-standing political issues which may bring problems, then my estimation is that cooperation on energy matters may positively affect other aspects.
Today, the trading of energy is not limited to academic and theoretical approaches. We see it being put to practice through the deal for the export of natural gas from Israel to Jordan and Egypt. This is an important example of cooperation, which was considered unthinkable a few years ago. If there is no such cooperation on energy, these resources would remain unexploited. And this is because of the small size of the countries, as there are not enough ways to market [the energy]. Israel, for example, does not have enough internal demand to justify investing in offshore exploration, and must look for niche markets. As such, there are political issues going way back between Arab neighbors that need resolution or need the recognition of the positive aspects energy is able to provide.
Your visit to the region comes at a time when Turkey is moving forward with illegal drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
We’ve been very clear on this. We’ve called on all parties to stop any provocative activity which may bring further instability to the region, and Turkey’s actions are an example of this. I’ve said this keeping in mind the development of the region as a whole. This was the reason I traveled to Turkey immediately after leaving Cyprus. Due to its geographical position, Turkey can become an energy crossroads. There is, therefore, a lot of potential that can be made use of by everyone. I’m not here to resolve the long-standing political problems, of course, but to show all countries of the region how they are able to benefit from cooperation.
You’ve asked all parties to avoid provocative actions. Which other party apart from Turkey are you addressing?
Our request is for calmness, dialogue, and an understanding that the economic prospects that exist at the moment will cease to be the case if tension continues to escalate. Such an outcome will not benefit either party. I visited Cyprus last year when ExxonMobil began its drilling operations, and that was an especially good period. But time will be needed for the development of production infrastructure and the distribution of resources. At the moment, there’s a possibility for high revenues from this process. This is why we shouldn’t tackle the matter with an “us against all” approach, or an approach that seeks to take the largest piece of the pie, but to create a large pie that all can benefit from. Otherwise, no one will emerge victorious.