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30 December, 1998
Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides announced last night a decision for the non-deployment of the Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles on Cyprus.
He said in a two-page written statement after consultations with the Greek government in Athens in the morning and a three-hour session of the island's National Council that he would negotiate with the Russian government a possible alternative deployment of the missiles on the island of Crete.
"The positions of the parties were clear and so was the non-existence of unanimity. Consequently, being the President of the Republic of Cyprus, fully conscious of the responsibilities, which I am shouldering and realizing the crucial hour our national issue is facing, I reached the decision, not to have the missiles deployed on Cyprus. I agreed for us to negotiate with the Russian government on their possible deployment on Crete," President Clerides said after the National Council meeting.
President Clerides said that in reaching this decision, he took seriously into account the positions of the Greek government and of the majority of the National Council which supported the need for a joint decision between the governments of Greece and Cyprus.
"I assume responsibility for this decision and I feel the obligation to underline that the sole and exclusive criterion in taking this decision was the interests of the Cypriot people and the broader interests of Hellenism. I accept this decision constitutes a change from a previous one for the deployment of the missiles on Cyprus. However, I do not accept that today's decision was the result of bowing to pressures, threats and blackmail. It was merely the result of the responsible evaluation and realistic joint assessment of the currently existing conditions, factors and prospects concerning, directly or indirectly, the course of our national issue," he said.
President Clerides said that he neither criticized nor denounced the decision taken for the purchase and deployment of the S-300 missiles on Cyprus as mistaken. He added, however, that he would not be a responsible leader if he had insisted stubbornly on that decision merely for reasons of misconstrued consistency and being aware that its implementation at present would harm the substantive and permanent interests of Cyprus and Greece.
"I wish to underline in particular the fact that the Greek government, in our meeting in Athens today, reiterated its commitment to strengthen the unified defence doctrine even more and its readiness to defend the interests of Cypriot Hellenism and the security of Cyprus in the event of a threat," he added.
President Clerides said that Cyprus now awaited implementation of Security Council resolutions and the fulfillment of international commitments undertaken at the highest level. He added that with its decision, Cyprus is providing the international commu nity with the opportunity of paving the way for the demilitarisation of Cyprus and the resolution of the Cypriot problem, and expects results in a reasonable period of time.
Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed his support for President Clerides' decision not to install the S-300 surface-to-air missiles on the divided island.
"It is a decision which the Greek government fully backs", the premier said.
He added that "the question was and still is that progress is achieved in the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem and the consolidation of a feeling of security to Cypriot Hellenism".
The installation of the Russian-made S-300 missile system on Cyprus is not an end in itself Mr. Simitis stressed.
He explained that the cultivation of conditions of tension is the Turkish side's fixed target, while on the contrary, Greece has an interest in persevering with diplomatic efforts, respect for international legality, and utilisation of all possibilities for a comprehensive and peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem.
"The recent Security Council resolutions on Cyprus and the statements by foreign leaders that followed, can be an important positive development to reduce tensions", Mr. Simitis underlined.
The two UN resolutions Mr. Simitis referred to renewed for six months the mandate of the Peacekeeping Force on the island and called on both communities to respond positively to the organisation's efforts to secure agreement on measures to reduce tension and build confidence between them.
US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also expressed the commitment to work towards implementation of the resolutions.
Mr. Simitis further placed emphasis on the fact that increasing international awareness for Cyprus, which is now taking the form of concrete proposals and commitments by international bodies, give rise to solid hopes for a new coordinated effort to establish peace and pave the way for negotiations to resolve the long-running problem.
"The responsible decision just taken by President Clerides must then be assessed in the context of a new effort to raise the substance of the issue through new procedures. The joint Greek-Cypriot effort will now focus on fully exploiting the dymanics created by these developments", the Greek premier said. According to Mr. Simitis, military cooperation between Greece and Cyprus will continue within the context of two states' joint defence doctrine, with its continuing development being a permanent and clear political decision.
"The specific commitments Greece has undertaken towards Cyprus are always valid", he said.
Reffering to the decision to install the missiles on Crete -following the necessary deliberations with Russia- Mr. Simitis said that it was part of the joint defence doctrine planning, which will boost Cyprus' defence and protection.
"Greece guaranteees the right of Greek Cypriots to live in security and will continue to defend that right by all means availble", Mr. Simitis stressed.
The Greek prime minister also pledged that Greece will promote Cyprus' EU accession as it has done up to now, believing that the island's admission into the union will safeguard unhindered and peaceful development and prosperity of the whole of Cyprus.
Greek political party reactions:
Main opposition New Democracy party spokesman Aris Spiliotopoulos yesterday said that the government was responsible for the developments on the S-300 missile issue.
He claimed that Greece "cashed in the results" of the wrong choices made by the government in exercising foreign policy.
He added "no one ever explained to the Greek people, how, why and with which aim and prospect the purchase and deployment of the S-300 on Cyprus was decided.
"Nor (do they explain) what, in reality, today's decision serves, for the possible transfer to Crete, which the Greek government will negotiate with the Russian and Cypriot governments," he said.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in its press release said that the development of the issue proves that the partition of the island is kept secret, the process of the island republic's accession to the European Union "which is the leverage for the partition" is presented as salvation for the Cyrpus problem, it is not allowed by a small country to purchase defensive arms and the joint defence doctrine has gone "totally bankrupt."
US State Department: WASHINGTON (ANA- T. Ellis)
A State Department spokesman said yesterday that Cyprus' decision not to deploy the Russian-made S-300 defence missiles on the island republic was welcomed by the United States.
"We welcome and support President (Glafcos) Clerides' decision not to bring the S-300 missiles to Cyprus", said Mr. Lee McClenny of the State Department, adding "we commend the government of Cyprus for taking this important step for easing tensions on the island".
"This action will give important new impetus to UN Secretary General Annan's 30 September initiative to reduce tensions and promote a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus dispute" he said.
"The UN Security Council, in UNSC resolution 1218 adopted December 22, strongly endorsed the Secretary General's initiative and urged him to intensify his efforts." Mr. McClenny said, adding that "As President Clinton said in his December 22 statement, the U.S. wholeheartedly supports this resolution and will take all necessary steps to support a sustained effort to implement it".
"We urge both sides in the Cyprus dispute to work closely with the Secretary General to reduce tensions and to avoid any actions that might increase tensions on the island" Mr. McClenny concluded.
Russian foreign ministry: NICOSIA (ANA/CNA)
In an interview with Reuters ahead of President Clerides' announcement of the decision not to deploy the missiles, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin expressed the hope Cyprus would respect its contract, pointing out that he saw no danger to regional security as a result from this purchase.
"Our position is that this is a purely commercial contract", he said and added, "We do not believe that this contract is the origin of tensions in Cyprus".
Mr. Rakhmanin said "Russia has moved forward some ideas on how to reduce tensions on the island" and stressed that "the main proposal is the demilitarization of Cyprus and I believe these ideas are still on the table".
The Cyprus government in January 1997 ordered the anti-aircraft missiles.
Source: Athens News Agency