The U.S. wants to work with Cyprus and ally Israel to buttress peace in the eastern Mediterranean and to head off Russian influence over the region's energy reserves, a senior U.S. lawmaker said Monday.
Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. is looking for friendly nations in the region that share core democratic values in light of what he calls Russia's "malevolent machinations."
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"I'm excited about the prospect of our ally Israel working with Cyprus I think we have an opportunity for peace and cooperation as never before," Engel said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
"The energy rights that (Cyprus) has are exciting. It's a new threshold, I think that Mr. Putin and Russia can't and should not be able to control the situation."
Energy companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni are licensed to carry out exploratory drilling in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. ExxonMobil and Eni have announced the discovery of a sizeable gas field in areas where each is drilling.
Offshore hydrocarbon discoveries have enabled Cyprus and Israel to forge closer ties in recent years.
But Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and objects to its gas search, has dispatched a drillship to start drilling off the island nation in an area Ankara contends falls within its continental shelf.
The European Union has given its backing to Cyprus which insists the Turkish moves are a flagrant violation of its sovereign rights and international law.
Engel said he believes there will be progress in efforts to lift a 32-year-old U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus, adding that "this is no longer the 1970s and we have to look at each problem with a fresh look."
Cyprus says the lifting of the arms embargo would remove a major impediment to significantly improving its relations with Washington.