Diplomats breathe a sigh of relief

By Jean Christou

KEY PLAYERS in the international community’s drive to stop the missiles being deployed on the island were yesterday congratulating themselves for their successful efforts.

But as policy-makers abroad heaped welcoming platitudes onto Cyprus, diplomats in the field breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“There has been an enormous amount of work going on behind the scenes, especially in the last month, to ensure that everything went the right way. It’s been a lot of work,” said one Western diplomat who wished to remain anonymous.

“This is a positive step for Cyprus and we wish all Cypriots could see it that way because it will help us to move forward on the real issues.”

The diplomat said that it would not be entirely right to look on the recent UN resolutions on Cyprus – widely seen as an “exchange” for the non- deployment of the missiles – as a face-saving exercise for the government.

“The resolution in fact gives formal backing to the Hercus process,” the diplomat said, referring to the UN-backed shuttle talks being carried out by Unficyp chief of mission Dame Ann Hercus.

A second western diplomat said the missiles had been a major stumbling block to solving the Cyprus problem. “The missiles were militarily not significant for defence, but politically they were disastrous,” the diplomat said.

“From all the possible negative options, this one (cancellation) was the least negative. It was the best of a bad lot of options.”

The diplomat denied there had been a significant amount of arm-twisting by the international community. “We see the dilemma of Clerides and we know the intransigence of Turkey but it was never our intention to blackmail, but to convince as friends of Cyprus. The decision to bring the missiles was not in favour of the efforts of all of us to solve the Cyprus problem.”

In official statements yesterday, the US and Britain in particular welcomed the outcome of the two-year missile saga, which has dominated the Cyprus problem in general.

Austria, which holds the EU’s six-monthly rotating presidency announced that Cyprus was now fit to join the bloc. Germany, which takes over the presidency from tomorrow, said the move would build the EU’s trust in Cyprus.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said: “The decision is a significant contribution to international efforts – in which Britain played a prominent part – to reduce tensions in the region.”

Cook said Britain was committed to supporting the UN effort and that Clerides’ decision not to deploy the missiles created the conditions necessary for a just and lasting settlement.

The US was also full of praise for Clerides and repeated the same supportive statements for the UN process.

“We welcome and support President Clerides’ decision… we commend the government of Cyprus for taking this important step to ease tensions on the island,” said Lee McClenny, a state department spokesman.

EU bedfellows Austria and Germany were not far behind.

Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel said the decision vindicated the inclusion of Cyprus in the “fast track” membership of the bloc.

“Now we see that this vote to confidence was justified,” Schuessel said in a statement. “Membership prospects obviously motivated Cyprus to make a significant contribution to stability in the region.”

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Erdmann called on Turkey to reduce its military presence on the island.

He said such a move by Turkey would contribute to building trust in Cyprus.