France defends Cyprus defence deal against Turkish claims

By Constantine Markides

THE French ambassador has rejected claims that the bilateral defence agreement that Cyprus and France are close to signing is in any way a military alliance between the two countries or targets neighbouring countries. The ambassador told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the agreement falls under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and resembles other agreements France has with dozens of other countries.

Turkish Cypriot authorities and Ankara have opposed the proposed agreement, viewing it as an effort by France to secure a base and military advantage on the island in a move that will strategically damage Turkey.

French Defence Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie and President Tassos Papadopoulos discussed the details of such an agreement on July 23, when Alliot-Marie visited the island to observe the evacuation of French nationals out of Lebanon via Cyprus. Although technical details will likely not be fully worked out until autumn, the defence agreement is set to include the use of military facilities, technical support and education and training of National Guardsmen in France. Joint military exercises may also be included.

Under the proposal, France would also have permanent access to the Andreas Papandreou Paphos air base, considered the most critical portion of the agreement for France, as it would give it infrastructure in the Middle East region. Greece built the Paphos air base to provide air cover for Cyprus in case of hostilities with Turkey.

Turkish Cypriot spokesman Hasan Ercakica yesterday referred to the proposal as “attempts by the Greek Cypriot administration to win over France, which wants to enhance its ability to intervene in developments unfolding in the Middle East”. “Efforts to gain military means by exploiting problems on a problematic island are unacceptable,” Ercakica said.

But French ambassador Hadelin De la Tour-du-Pin said France had made similar agreements with dozens of countries, as well as signed numerous other bilateral agreements with Cyprus, such as a security agreement signed last year on anti-terrorism policing and information exchange. “Now we are considering to finalise an agreement in the field of defence, which of course falls under the ESDP, European Security and Defence Policy, linking all 25 EU member states.”

De la Tour-du-Pin pointed to the French navy ships docked in Limassol and the delivery of spare equipment parts from France to the National Guard as just a few examples of how France and Cyprus already co-operate. Over the past month, Cyprus has also allowed French military helicopters to use the Paphos air base to assist with the evacuation process.

“There is nothing to fuss about over this agreement,” De la Tour-du-Pin said. “Instead of doing such things on a day-to-day basis there will be an agreement between us.” The French ambassador also dismissed as “ridiculous” claims that France was trying to secure itself a base in Cyprus. “If we want to ask the British for some support, then we can do that,” he said. “We don’t need a base in Cyprus.”

France, as well as other NATO forces, has in times of crisis been granted access to the two British bases on the island established under the 1960 Zurich agreement. “It’s obvious if you consider the circumstances in Lebanon that we need a safe place to dock our ships, land our aircraft and helicopters, and occasionally station our troops, at least for a short period of time between operations. But that doesn’t mean there would be a new Akrotiri [base] in Cyprus.”

The French Defence Minister has also downplayed allegations that France wants to bolster its military in the region. She described NATO as France’s “ultimate security guarantee if there is a massive attack. We don’t need to rejoin the military structure.”
‘It’s our inalienable right’

In the wake of Ankara’s protestations over the proposed defence agreement between Cyprus and France, Government Spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said it was the government’s “inalienable right” to enter any such agreements. “It is our inalienable right to enter co-operation agreements of any form, with any country, and this right does is not subject to recognition or approval either from Turkey or from any other side,” he said.

This would be the first such agreement that Cyprus would have with a country other than Greece.

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