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Saudi Arabia: ‘We support our ally Cyprus against Turkey’s activities in Mediterranean’

September 13, 2019 at 12:10 am

Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf attends a preparatory meeting for foreign ministers in Tunis on 29 March, 2019 [FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images]

Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf said his country supports the Greek Cypriots, which he described as an ally, against Turkey’s oil and gas exploration activities in the Mediterranean.

This came in statements made by Al-Assaf during a press conference held by his Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides. The Saudi Foreign Ministry published parts of the press conference on Twitter, on Thursday.

Al-Assaf, who is currently on a visit to Rome, told reporters: “Yes, we discussed the problem of Cyprus. We support the legitimacy and sovereignty of Cyprus. We also support international resolutions, especially those of the United Nations, and we hope that the parties will solve the problem in a peaceful manner. We will continue to support Cyprus.”

Al-Assaf confirmed that he met President of Cyprus and the speaker of the Parliament, Thursday morning, adding: “I see great interest in the development of relations at all levels.”

The Saudi foreign minister pointed out that he discussed with his Cypriot counterpart several economic opportunities.

Saudi-Turkish tension

Al-Assaf’s visit came amid rising tension between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over several issues, including the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Ankara’s alignment with Doha during the Gulf crisis and Riyadh’s support for Egypt’s 2013 coup.

Last month, a leaked document revealed a plan drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the UAE aimed at weakening the Turkish government, overthrowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and igniting internal crises in Turkey.

According to Middle East Eye, the plan aimed to use all possible tools to pressure and weaken Erdogan’s government and keep him busy with domestic issues in the hope that the opposition will overthrow or distract him by evoking repeated crises.

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According to reports carried by Cypriot and Saudi media, the two sides, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus, held talks covering bilateral relations and the Cyprus issue.

The same reports added that Al-Assaf expressed his country’s desire to “improve relations with South Cyprus because of its geographical location, and years of long-standing dialogue with the Arab world, in addition to being a member of the European Union.”

Turkish media attacked the Saudi foreign minister for Riyadh’s support for Nicosia’s position against Ankara. AHABER TV described such statement, in a report published on its website, as “shameless.”

The TV channel quoted Al-Assaf saying: “The Saudi Kingdom stands with our ally, the Cypriot President, against Turkey’s illegal activities in the Mediterranean.”

The channel pointed out also that the minister’s statements are in harmony with the European and US position on the issue of gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided between a Turkish part in the north and a Greek part in the south.

The unilaterally proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey as a sovereign state, has not won international recognition.

Cyprus has been a member of the European Union and says the north has been under illegal occupation since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.

Tensions between the two parts increased as natural gas deposits were discovered in the water zone between Cyprus and Israel.

Turkish Cypriots accused the Cypriot government of acting unilaterally by inviting companies to explore in the region, saying that they want to have a share in the profits of any gas production. But, the Cypriot government rejected the idea.

Turkish Cypriots said that their first choice is to negotiate with the Greek Cypriots on the island’s unification; however, after decades of inaction, such a situation cannot last forever.