Opposition Builds Over Cyprus Missile Purchase

ATHENS (Reuter)-Greece vowed on Tuesday to campaign internationally to ensure that Cyprus can proceed with the purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft missile defense system despite objections by Ankara–Washington and London.

"Cyprus is an independent country that has every right to apply defense program–a foreign ministry statement said. "Greece will use all means at its disposal with international bodies and friendly governmen’s so that Ankaras efforts (to cancel the deal) do not succeed.

Turkey said on Monday it would not accept a change in the balance of power on the divided island of Cyprus as a result of the Cypriot governmen’s decision to buy the surface-to- air missiles–but did not say what measures it would take.

In an unusually strong statement–the United States Monday deplored Cyprus contract to buy the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system from Russia–saying it would introduce a destabilizing new military element and complicate peace moves. Britain also expressed concern.

The US announced plans to renew this weekend efforts to reduce tensions between Greeks and Turks on the divided island–officials said Tuesday.

They said Carey Cavanaugh–who heads the office of southern European Affairs–would visit Cyprus on Sunday and Monday–seeking to advance a political settlement there.

Before arriving in Cyprus–Cavanaugh will accompany Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum to The Hague for a meeting of European Union officials and concerns about Cyprus will be be a major topic of their discussions–US officials said.

Kornblum and Cavanaugh plan to leave Washington Thursday for The Hague. Cavanaugh plans to meet officials in Greece early next week and then will visit Turkey at mid-week– officials said. Arrangemen’s were still being made–they said.

But Cyprus shrugged off the criticism as unfair–saying the system was essential to defend Greek Cypriots on the island and rejecting what it said was a double standard.

"Similar criticism has never been raised against the presence of 35,000 Turkish troops illegally in Cyprus who are armed with American weapons…NATO weapons destined to be used against NATO enemies–Cypriot government spokesman Yiannakis Cassoulides told reporters.

Armenia also joined the debate this week. Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian–on an official visit to Athens Wednesday–said Armenia’supports the Cypriots’ efforts aimed at strengthening their security.

The purchase of Russia’s S-300 system–with a 90-mile (145-km) range–is the Cypriot governmen’s first step toward building a credible air defense system.

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