An official website of the United States government

The U.S., Cyprus, and Regional Security: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders
Ambassador Fisher’s Remarks at the University of Cyprus
February 8, 2024

Rector Christofides, professors, students, parents, and the University of Cyprus community –

I’m honored to address Cyprus’ oldest public university – a university of firsts. Since 1992, this University has become a beacon of scientific thought, problem solving, and creativity, and a leading institution in the greater Euro-Mediterranean area.

At the heart of this university, we find a dedication to quality teaching, life-long learning, and innovation. In the tradition of the world’s best universities, we see this dedication as a center of gravity, which students are both attracted to, and feel welcome to return to, as a place that feels like home.

In our world today, education isn’t just a steppingstone to individual success, it is the cornerstone of global stability. Just as Cyprus’ future leaders, negotiators, diplomats, scientists, and changemakers are made in these classrooms, it is universities, like this one, that shape the trajectory of nations.

Higher education institutions like this one are leading the way to cultivate critical thinking, nurture tolerance, and foster cultural understanding among students, because it is clear education enables us to bridge the dangerous gaps of misunderstanding and distrust. If regional security in our world today has become an intricate puzzle, education is that key that unlocks new, collaborative, and innovative solutions. It is the powerful antidote to rising intolerance and extremism.

I understand this University’s goal is the cultural, social and economic enhancement of Cyprus, and our main goal at the U.S. Embassy is to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Cyprus. We achieve both by looking at how our ties – cultural, social and economic – provide opportunity, vitality, and stability for both our nations.

Here in Cyprus, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, we see up close, and have the opportunity to understand better than most, the ripple effects regional stability and instability can have on the global stage.

We currently live in an era defined by conflict and rapidly changing geopolitical landscapes. When Hamas terrorists brutally attack Israeli civilians and cower behind Palestinian children – when we mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s inhuman and unjustified war against Ukraine – when Houthis assault commercial ships navigating in the Red Sea and endanger global shipping routes, the security of the food we eat, and the prices of the goods we buy – we see just how crucial Cyprus’ role is as a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

It is in this context that we aim to broaden the U.S.-Cyprus relationship, one grounded in shared values and mutual respect, and to foster stability across the region.

That’s why we have been partnering with Cyprus to fortify our economic ties, to increase travel and educational exchanges, and to further strengthen our capacity to respond to crises together. All to support Cyprus’ stabilizing role in the security of the Eastern Mediterranean – because shared challenges require shared solutions.

There is no doubt Cyprus is an inviting market for American tech companies looking to commercialize research, nurture innovation, and encourage entrepreneurship. Our ongoing cooperation in this regard has brought new investments to Cyprus, has helped American companies start or expand their presence here, and has brought Cypriot companies to the United States.

We are partnering to counter illicit finance moving through Cyprus, and thereby working toward a more robust, more resilient Cypriot economy. Together, we are effectively implementing sanctions and pursuing sanctions violators to cut off the funding streams that enable Russia to finance and wage its brutal war against Ukraine.

We are working together to investigate cybercrime, organized crime, money laundering, fraud, romance scams, the exploitation of children, and to counter terrorism.

We facilitate American Fulbright English Teaching Assistants to come to Cyprus, giving students access to native English language speakers as they learn. And both our nations share a dedication to repatriating Cypriot antiquities and preserving cultural heritage.

We are working closely and collaboratively on meeting the requirements for Cyprus to join the Visa Waiver Program, through which Cypriots would enjoy easier, visa-free travel to the United States.

And I cannot leave out the critical partnership we share at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-Seas and Port Security. These venues have led the efforts of more than 20 nations, in the wake of Hamas’ horrifying attacks on Israel on October 7, to plan every contingency to assist the potential departure of civilians from region. The efforts to get humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza via Cyprus have demonstrated the ROC government’s commitment to regional problem solving.

All of this is to say – the American Embassy is extremely fortunate to work with our Cypriot counterparts, who at every level prove to be dedicated, highly capable partners. I regularly work with University of Cyprus alumni in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Education, the Deputy Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, the Police, and so many more.

Our bilateral relationship is stronger than ever because of the dedicated leaders and professionals in government, law enforcement, civil society, and beyond. All that we have accomplished together in the past years would not have been possible without an original commitment to education, and the strength and experience their education brings to their work. Education is that foundation on which all our collaboration, all of our successes, and all our progress toward mutual goals, is possible.

Many of our counterparts, working in government and civil society, are also alums of educational and professional exchange opportunities in the United States. Those who went brought their knowledge, and their attachment to the United States, back to Cyprus – many sit in this room tonight as parents and educators of today’s students.

Data shows us that more than 27,000 Cypriots have studied or taught at U.S. higher education institutions since 1960; countless thousands more have participated in other non-degree exchange or language programs in the United States. The same data shows that in 2022, Cyprus sent the 5th highest percentage in Europe of its student population to the United States.

Deepening the ties through increased travel and educational exchanges is a longstanding U.S. goal, because international exchanges at the university level and beyond play a crucial role in supporting regional stability.

The United States, as a longstanding proponent of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, stands ready to collaborate with Cyprus and other nations in nurturing the talents of emerging leaders. Investing in the education and development of leaders in Cyprus is an investment into the future security of the island and the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean.

I couldn’t agree more with this University’s belief that education must provide more than simply the accumulation of knowledge; it must also encourage students’ active participation in the process of learning those values necessary for responsible community involvement.

The next generation of Cypriot leaders, prepared by the education they are getting today, will be no doubt capable of leading. But problem-solving starts, with all of us, as citizens, here, now, with all of you today. You also hold the responsibility of initiating positive change. Grassroots problem-solving efforts can often precede and should complement government efforts for a comprehensive, responsive approach to societal challenges.

Leadership is learned through observation and guidance; professors are key catalysts for change and for helping students shape their futures. We know you take that responsibility seriously.

To the parents in the audience, your investment in your students’ education goes beyond ensuring a bright future for your children; it is an investment in the future of Cyprus and in the stability of the region. And you share in laying the foundation for your students’ lifelong commitment to continuous learning—a trait essential for leaders navigating the dynamic challenges of the modern world.

To the alums of this university, think about how the choices you made here influenced your career, your work, your view of Cyprus and its role in the world. This University is here for you, as you continue to learn, grow, and contribute to your community.

And to the students – challenging yourselves in these, your university years, is essential. In an American education, critical thinking, challenging the ideas presented by your professors or peers, is an absolutely critical component. These skills equip you to question, to consider, and to contribute.

Here at this University, in these formative years, you have a wide range of options you may choose from, from what you study to how you pursue your interests. You will make choices about joining the for-profit world or an NGO. Choices about whether to become a lawyer, for instance, or enter the diplomatic corps. Choices about whether to pursue a career that allows you to work on security, migration issues, climate change, counterterrorism, the Cyprus Question, and contribute toward its solution.

Those who know me would not be surprised that I’ll conclude tonight by sharing I am a proud alumna of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My school was the first public university to open its doors in the newly-established United States of America, just as this public university was the first to open in Cyprus. For all the choices I had there as a student, and for its influence on my career, my university still feels like home to me. It’s where I found professors who had a profound impact on my career choices and where I found a pathway to serving my country. It’s also where I learned to love basketball.

And it feels like home here too, at the University of Cyprus. When the Embassy last year looked for the first time to host our Independence Day celebration outside the Embassy grounds, we turned to the University of Cyprus as the place we thought most captured the spirit of the event. It was that shared support for education, celebrated together with our Cypriot friends and colleagues on campus, that made the event so special.

UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Charles Kuralt once famously asked: “What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? Our love for this place,” he said, “is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.” This is the same for the University of Cyprus – a public university, designed for people. People with an opportunity to shape their nation’s destiny.

One of my former bosses, General Colin Powell, reminded us that “if we are going to achieve excellence in big things, we develop the habit in smaller matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude.” With your exceptional staff and students, and your Rector, we know this University will continue to navigate its way towards academic excellence in service of Cyprus.

Together, this community will strategically and effectively respond to our shared challenges, overcome difficulties, and create opportunities for Cyprus and the broader region. We are thrilled for your journey, and count on the results of your efforts.