Cyprus Mail

Cyprus and NATO – an old story

By Dr Andrestinos Papadopoulos

I TOOK the cue to write the present article from information contained in the British foreign office documents which were made public in December 2014.

According to these papers, in January 1985, Spyros Kyprianou, then president of Cyprus, had proposed to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that Cyprus should accede to NATO and the EEC (the former EU).

The British foreign office advised its government to hold consultations with the United States, West Germany, France and Italy. If, however, President Kyprianou pressed the issue again, the answer was to be that, given the reactions of Turkey, accession would complicate instead of facilitate a solution of the Cyprus problem.

At the meeting with Thatcher (January 14, 1985), at which then Foreign Minister George Iacovou was also present, President Kyprianou stressed that Cyprus’ accession to NATO and the EEC would be the best guarantee of a solution since it would have made specific guarantees unnecessary.

The question of Cyprus’ accession to NATO actually dates back to 1959. When the London Agreements for the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus were signed, the United Kingdom was in favour of Cyprus joining the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, but not NATO.

The argument was that Cyprus was a small country with a small population. That same objection evidently did not apply to other NATO members with small populations such as Luxembourg and Iceland.

Concerning Cyprus’ strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean, the UK felt that this was not a strong argument in favour of NATO membership, since it had already secured two sovereign bases in Cyprus which could also serve NATO if needed.

The fact remains that Archbishop Makarios, as well as General Grivas, gave the green light to NATO membership of Cyprus. This was revealed to George Iacovou by Makarios in 1975 and was later confirmed by Greek politician Evangelos Averof to Iacovou when he was serving as ambassador to Germany.

To the above, I would like to add a personal testimony. In May 1975, when I was serving as assistant director in the Commonwealth secretariat on secondment from the foreign ministry, I had a meeting with Makarios in Kingston (Jamaica) where the Heads of Government Meeting of the Commonwealth had convened.

Makarios mentioned to me that in 1965 he had proposed Cyprus’ accession to NATO to the Americans and that they refused to accept the offer. In September 1976, I was in Washington and our ambassador, Nicos Demetriou, reconfirmed this information, adding that Makarios’ go-between was the then finance minister, Renos Solomides.

In August 1977, I met Solomides in Nicosia and he explained that it was he who had raised the question with the American ambassador, rather than then Foreign Minister Kyprianou, because of the good relations he enjoyed with the USA.

Evidently, the answer was negative, due to the reaction of Turkey.

If we examine both attempts, that of Makarios in 1965 and that of Kyprianou in 1985, we observe that the first took place after the bombardment of Tylliria by the Turkish air force in 1964, and the second after the illegal UDI of the Turkish Cypriots in 1983.

In the minds of the two leaders, the impression perhaps prevailed that Cyprus’ membership of NATO would act as a shield against Turkish aggression.

In practice, however, the contrary seemed to happen. Good examples are the “Imia” incident of 1996 and the frequent violations of Greek air space by Turkey, a NATO ally!

On the basis of the aforesaid, the conclusion is also that since 1959 there were plans which allowed Turkey to have freedom of action concerning the Cyprus problem.

Dr Andrestinos Papadopoulos is a former Cyprus ambassador

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