By Aria Socratous

TAMPA, FL. The Pancyprian Association of Florida, the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus-PSEKA, the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations and the Panhellenic Federation of Florida presented a Panel Discussion Justice and Peace in the Eastern Mediterranean, Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Trilateral Alliance (Greece, Cyprus, Israel) and its impact on American interests on Saturday, January 25th, 2020 at St Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs.

The discussion moderated the President of the Pancyprian Association of Florida, Varnavas Zagaris and the panel joined the Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the Professor Golfo Alexopoulos, Director of USF Institute of Russia  and the Professor of Political Science and director of the Honors Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Thomas Smith, who from 1997-2000 was an assistant professor of International Relations at Koç University in Istanbul.

The main topics of the discussion were the exploration of gas in the Cypriot sector, the trilateral agreement between Greece, Israel and Cyprus, human right violations and how the US is willing to confront Turkey.

“The Turkish government is supporting Muslim brother, Islamic extremist groups in Syria.The newspapers are stating about Erdogan’s ambitions of reuniting Ottoman Empire. Don’t take that too lightly especially with Greece being so closed to Turkey and Cyprus being so close and occupied. Is the US willing to stand up Erdogan, is the US willing to protect its interests in the Miiddle East? Is the US willing to impose sanctions on Turkey? The first school of diplomacy was established in Turkey. They definitely know how to play the game» stated Varnavas Zagaris, the President of the Pancyprian Association.

“Turkey is a bad actor in the international stage. Finally now is clear that Turkey is not acting on behalf of the US. We took action on placing sanctions on Turkey and we will continue placing sanctions on Turkey. Additionally, we had a productive dialogue with the UN regarding Cyprus, a reason to be optimistic about the progress. The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act was signed into law at the end of last year. It authorizes the establishment of the US Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the US, Greece, Israel and Cyprus. It authorizes financing assistance for Greece and international military education assistance for Greece and Cyprus. It requires the administration to submit to Congress a strategy and security  and Energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. We have an ally, Pompeo who is working on behalf Cyprus and Greece. Pompeo made some very strong statements for the first time especially when Turkey first  invaded the exclusive economic zone and two weeks later the State Department followed. The sanction go on and they can become stronger.”, stated the Congressman Gus Bilirakis.

 “The East Med Agreement is not good news for Russia. Russia wants to maintain its authority as a major gas supplier in Europe, it has an agreement with Turkey, they established the Turk stream gas line that brings natural gas from Russia under the Black Sea and they do not want the partnership between Greece, Cyprus and Israel to threaten that. Russia is known to use energy as a weapon especially in Ukraine and Belarus. The other issue is that Russia wants to remain a great power in the region.”, stated Professor Golfo Alexopoulos, the Director of USF Institute on Russia

“It is a really interesting question the relationship between Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan. Turkey feels like it should  be a part of that. The reason is that Turkey traditionally  had pretty good relationship with Israel.”claimed  Professor Thomas Smith who from 1997-2000  was an assistant professor of International Relations at Koç University in Istanbul.

After the discussion, the moderator took questions from the audience.