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Aoun calls for more cooperation with Cyprus

President Michel Aoun called for increased cooperation between Cyprus and Lebanon in the oil and gas sector Monday as he welcomed Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to the presidential palace. Anastasiades was welcomed by an official honor guard, with Lebanon’s foreign, economy, industry, tourism and anti-corruption ministers all present.

“We hope for continued political cooperation between Lebanon and Cyprus, and we encourage both nations’ governments to increase the level of cooperation in the oil and gas sector,” Aoun said at a joint news conference that followed a closed-door meeting with Anastasiades.

Aoun added, “We reaffirm the importance of resuming dialogue in the energy field between both nations based on international law and U.N. maritime agreements.”

Lebanon and Cyprus previously agreed that talks over disputed maritime zones between the two countries and Israel would be discussed, but an agreement was never ratified by the Lebanese government. Since then, Cyprus and Israel have reached a bilateral agreement on their maritime boundaries.

However, Lebanon and Israel remain locked in an indirect dispute over a maritime zone, complicated by the fact that it may contain reserves of natural gas. Lebanon has since demanded the demarcation of the area with the help of the U.N. and other concerned parties. The disputed zone is made up of 870 square kilometers of water off Lebanon’s southern coast.

Turkey, meanwhile, has demanded that an agreement be reached over the divided island of Cyprus – the northeastern portion of which is a self-declared Turkish republic – before any maritime agreements can go ahead.

The Cypriot president said Monday that “we hope Turkey will finally engage constructively in this process and submit positions so that progress can be achieved.”

Anastasiades was referring to the upcoming Conference on Cyprus, set to be held June 28 in Geneva – the second round of a conference intended to hammer out a reunification agreement to end the over 3-decade-old partition of the island.

Aoun said it was necessary that an agreement be reached to reunite Cyprus. “We will give our full support to unite the Cypriot land,” Aoun said.

The two leaders’ meeting also reportedly touched on economic ties between Cyprus and Lebanon, with conversation regarding the possibility of exporting Lebanese goods and crops. “We also discussed how to export Lebanese products to Cyprus by sea,” Aoun said.

Turning to political issues, Aoun said Lebanon should be a priority for European nations. Cyprus has been a member of the European Union since 2004. “I mentioned to his excellency that the security of Lebanon should be one of the most important responsibilities on the European Union’s agenda,” Aoun said.

Anastasiades praised the Lebanese state for hosting “around 1.5 million Syrian refugees,” and acknowledged “the impact this had on local communities.” He added, “Today, we focused on ways to further advance bilateral relations, developing synergies in the region and further EU-Lebanese relations.”

Anastasiades said the people of Cyprus and Lebanon have always shown resilience in overcoming hardships that history brings their way.

“I wish to assure you that Cyprus will continue to stand by Lebanon,” he said.

Anastasiades also met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Monday evening. He is scheduled to meet with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church

The Daily Star.

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