Cyprus' new president says country on firm Western footing

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) —

Cyprus' new president affirmed the island nation's Western foreign policy orientation as a member of the European Union that seeks to further strengthen its bonds with the U.S. and stands firmly with others on “the side of justice” to condemn Russia's war in Ukraine.

Speaking after taking his oath of office at a ceremony in parliament Tuesday, President Nikos Christodoulides said his administration will strive to make Cyprus a “credible and creative partner with substantial input” in European affairs. Among other foreign policy priorities will be to reach out to other ""significant players" in Asia.

Christodoulides, 49, defeated a career diplomat supported by the country's communist-rooted AKEL party in a Feb. 12 runoff. Like all of his predecessors, his top campaign priority was to revive stalemated peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots that has been a source or instability in the eastern Mediterranean for decades.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a Greek junta-sponsored coup that aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Numerous rounds of U.N.-facilitated talks since have ended in failure, including the latest bid in 2017.

Appealing directly to Turkish Cypriots, Christodoulides said that any peace deal should serve the interests of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike without a permanent Turkish troop presence or giving military intervention rights to Ankara — two key Turkish demands that the majority Greek Cypriots reject.

Christodoulides repeated that EU involvement would play a leading role in future peace talks. “Only in this way will we secure our children's future without building on sand,” he said.

Offering an olive branch to Turkey, he said that Ankara could play a role in the development of natural gas deposits off Cyprus' southern shore, "as long as it respects international law and lives up to its obligations toward the Cyprus republic, which are obligations toward the European Union."

Turkey says Cyprus' energy plans ignores its rights in the east Mediterranean, as well as those of Turkish Cypriots, and claims much of the island's exclusive economic zone as its own.

The new president said he would introduce new reforms in his administration, including an “internal audit and ethics" body to combat corruption, as well as instituting an annual, state of the union address to parliament.

On the economy, Christoulides said he would maintain fiscal discipline as prescribed by strict guidelines set out by the eurozone's 20 member states. Another priority for his administration will be to curb large arrivals of migrants seeking asylum by making Cyprus a “less attractive destination” and expediting repatriations.

Menelaos Hadjicostis, The Associated Press