ATHENS (Reuters)–Greece said on Tuesday a dialogue aimed at reducing arms on the divided island of Cyprus could postpone the deployment of Russian S-300 defense missiles by the Cypriot government.
"There is still time to negotiate. These missiles will not be deployed before November," Deputy Foreign Minister Yannos Kranidiotis told reporters. "If they start talking we will certainly reconsider the decision.”
Turkey has threatened to destroy the anti-aircraft missiles if they are deployed–fanning tensions on the island which the United Nations describe as the world’s most heavily-armed area.
Kranidiotis said that the start of talks on reducing weapons or the resumption of a bi-communal dialogue on the essence of the Cyprus problem could put off the missiles’ deployment and also ease tension on the island.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived apart since Turkey invaded the north in 1974 after a short-lived coup in Nicosia–engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece.
A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is recognized only by Turkey–which keeps about 30,000 troops there.
The internationally-recognized government in the south has recently forged a joint defense pact with its closest ally Greece and ordered the missiles to boost its defense.
UN efforts to reunite the island in a federation have repeatedly failed and a recent flurry of US-led diplomatic activity to get the two sides back to the negotiating table also drew blanks.
US envoy Thomas Miller arrives in Ankara on Tuesday on yet another tour of the region and is expected to discuss the option of a flight moratorium over Cyprus in exchange for the missiles’ deployment.
"It’s very disappointing that Turkey turned down the no-fly zone before discussing it with Thomas Miller," Kranidiotis said–referring to press reports that Ankara had rejected the proposal.
Tension has been growing on the island since a spate of violence on the ceasefire line in 1996–when five people died. The missiles have added to the tension and prompted concern of a spillover among the United States and its Western allies.
The last round of UN-sponsored talks between Cyprus President Glafcos Cleriders and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash ended in disarray last year.