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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 33, December 1998 - January 1999

Cyprus Decides Against Deploying Russian Missiles

On 29 December, the President of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides, announced that his Government was no longer planning to deploy Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles on its territory, but was instead intending to discuss with Russia the possibility of their deployment on the Greek island of Crete. According to the President's statement: "I assume responsibility for this decision and I feel the obligation to underline that the sole factor taken into account...was the good interests of Cyprus and of Hellenism."

Cyprus has been divided into Greek and Turkish zones since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis described Clerides' decision as "responsible," adding (29 December): "Greek-Cypriot military cooperation will continue. Greece guarantees the right of Greek Cypriots to live under conditions of security." Turkey, which had spoken of dire consequences if the deployment proceeded, reacted with undiplomatic delight. In the words of Foreign Minister Ismail Cem (29 December): "All we said was this - 'if these missiles are deployed we will do all that is necessary militarily and politically,' and this determined policy ended with the Greeks and Cypriots getting themselves into a comical situation." Cem claimed that the real purpose of the threatened deployment had been to force Turkey to reduce its armed forces, some 30,000 strong, in Turkish-controlled Cyprus: "In response to these concessions they were going to do us a favour and give up on the S-300s. It was such a calculation. It was a very wrong calculation. ... I find it incredible that one NATO member country should bring missiles to threaten another NATO country..." Turkey immediately made clear its opposition to deployment of the 150 kilometre (90 mile) range missiles on Crete, even though they would be out of range of Turkish territory.

In Greek-controlled Cyprus, reaction was mixed but often angry. Vassos Lyssarides, the leader of the Socialist EDEK Party, a coalition partner in the Clerides' Government, said the President had bowed to "Turkish blackmail" and may forfeit his party's support.

There was considerable international relief at the development. US State Department spokesperson Lee McClenny told reporters (29 December): "We commend the Government of Cyprus for taking this important step to ease tensions in the island... [T]his action will give important new emphasis to [UN] Secretary-General Annan's 30 September initiative to reduce tensions and promote a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus dispute." Annan himself (29 December) described the move as a "tangible, positive response" to his initiative.

On 14 January, in a letter to Annan, Clerides stated his willingness to suspend all weapons purchases if, within an unspecified "reasonable" period of time, Turkey accepted the terms of all UN Security Council resolutions on the Cyprus issue.

Reports: US hails Cyprus missile decision, Reuters, 29 December; Cyprus leader cancels missile plan, Associated Press, 29 December; Turkey warns against Crete missiles, Associated Press, 30 December; Turkey hails Cyprus missile climbdown as victory, Reuters, 30 December; Leaders roasted over Cyprus S-300 backdown, Reuters, 30 December; Cyprus backs down on missile deployment, Reuters, 30 December; Cyprus might halt weapons purchases, Associated Press, 14 January.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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