By Staff Reporter
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was in Cyprus on Saturday, meeting President Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential retreat in the Troodos mountains where they discussed, predominantly, the situation in Iraq as news emerged that the UK had deployed a spy plane as part of its humanitarian efforts in the beleaguered country.
Fallon was earlier in the day at the British base at RAF Akrotiri to discuss the UK expanding its air surveillance over northern Iraq. The RAF’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft Rivet Joint had been deployed to boost a team of Tornado jets at Akrotiri, which were already gathering intelligence as Kurdish forces battle against Islamist militants, he said. The intelligence gathered was being sent back to the Iraqi government, Kurdish fighters and US forces in the region in the effort to try and stem the tide of the Islamic State (IS) advance.
Fallon met Anastasiades at the Troodos retreat for around 45 minutes where they discussed Iraq, the Middle East, Ukraine and Cyprus. Fallon said it was a great honour to meet the Cypriot president again.
“I was able to update him on the situation in northern Iraq, the humanitarian work that is being done, organised from Cyprus and of course to pay tribute to Cyprus’s unique position in terms of the region, and the stability that we are all looking for, across the region,” the British Secretary said.
“We also obviously discussed the Cyprus question and the next steps towards a settlement. As you know we are encouraging both sides to use this opportunity now, to see what further progress can be made.”
He also said they had discussed a range of bilateral issues particularly the recovery of the Cyprus economy and the technical assistance “that Britain continues to offer and will continue to offer as the economy here recovers.”
Speaking of the humanitarian work Britain has been conducting through the bases, Fallon said: “We have been dropping over a hundred tons of shelter and water to people trapped on the Sinjar mountains and we are ready to continue to help the refugee problem in northern Iraq, half a million people who are now displaced, and we will continue to provide any kind of humanitarian help that is needed,” he added.
“Secondly, we are continuing surveillance of northern Iraq so we can have a better picture of the humanitarian needs there, so we are flying aircraft over Iraq so we all have a better understanding of where the next threat is coming from and whether there are other minority groups that face the kind of barbaric terrorism that we have seen. So we will continue to do that.”
After the meeting, Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said: “It is important that through the discussions that took place the strategic role of the Republic of Cyprus was highlighted, particularly in view of all the developments in the region.”
Earlier at Akrotiri, Fallon spent time with the crews putting together the humanitarian aid packages and reportedly told personnel: “This mission isn’t over yet.” He confirmed the deployment of Rivet Joint, the UK’s very latest surveillance aircraft, the successor to Nimrod, “to give us a much better picture, more intelligence and analysis of what is happening on the ground which will help the Iraqi government, the Kurdish forces and the Americans”. The Rivet Joint is described as a “listening post in the sky”.
The disclosure of its deployment came as reports emerged that at least 80 Yazidi men had been killed and women and children abducted by Islamic State forces, whose mass executions have shocked the world.
A British defence ministry spokeswoman said: “Rivet Joint has helped build an understanding of the humanitarian situation in Northern Iraq and the associated ISIL (another name for the IS) threat.
“The intelligence and insight it has provided has guided our humanitarian efforts, giving us an accurate picture of what is going on on the ground so that we could best deliver aid to the Yazidi people.”
In a signal of the international concern, the United Nations Security Council on Friday night unanimously approved a resolution designed to choke off the terrorists’ funding and recruitment.
It imposed sanctions including a travel ban and asset freeze on six prominent extremists and warned action could be taken against anyone held responsible for aiding the cause.
The vote came after EU foreign ministers approved the arming by member states of Kurdish troops trying to resist the extremists’ push to expand their sphere of control in Iraq.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain – which has so far only been transporting weapons provided by other countries – stood ready to “consider favourably” any request by Kurdish leaders for it to join countries such as the United States and France by directly supplying military equipment.
The UK has so far committed £13 million in new assistance in response to the crisis in Iraq. Because it was adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, military force is authorised to enforce the resolution but Russia has made clear its vote should not be seen as approval of such a move.
Hammond said IS represented a threat to civilisation and promised support for any inclusive new administration in Baghdad following the replacement as Iraqi prime minister of Nouri Maliki, who is accused by critics of fuelling sectarianism, helping the rise of IS.