NICOSIA (Reuters)–The decision by Cyprus not to deploy anti-aircraft missiles is a gesture which will aid momentum towards an overall reduction of troops and armamen’s on the divided island–Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides said.
He said that Turkey–which has 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus–had a "moral responsibility" to reciprocate Nicosia’s move.
Cassoulides was speaking in an interview with Reuters late on Tuesday.
He also said President Glafcos Clerides had signaled his acceptance of UN resolution 1218–passed in December–and expected the Turkish side to do the same.
The resolution called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to work intensively in agreement with the two sides to prevent the threat or use of force in resolving the Cyprus problem and to commit themselves to reducing troop levels and armamen’s on the island.
Cyprus canceled deployment of the Russian surface-to-air system last month after assurances from the international community that it would work harder towards finding a settlement to the long-running dispute which has evaded international mediation for decades.
Cassoulides said the decision not to deploy the S-300 missiles–even though he said the reason for having them remained–was a major gesture toward reducing troops and armamen’s opening the way towards demilitarization.
"And we feel that the Turkish side has now the responsibility–the moral responsibility–to reciprocate," he said.
Turkey–which invaded northern Cyprus in 1974–had threatened to take military action to prevent the missiles from being deployed on the island.
It perceived the missiles as a threat to the nearby Turkish mainland and to the breakaway state in northern Cyprus–headed by Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and recognized only by Ankara.
The missile warning sparked concern among Western countries–anxious to keep a lid on simmering tensions on Cyprus and between Greece and Turkey–partners in NATO but fiercely defensive of their ethnic kin on the east Mediterranean island.
The European Union also put pressure on Cyprus over the issue–sending out signals that the arrival of the missiles could affect membership talks started with the 15-member bloc last year.
"We made this choice of not deploying the missiles listening to the advice given to us by all our European partners…this must be considered our contribution to the cohesion of the common foreign and security policy of the European Union in this region," Cassoulides said.
"If Turkey reciprocates–the cohesion will be facilitated even further," he added.
International mediation efforts to reunite the island as a bizonal bicommunal federation have made little progress–with Denktash saying the only viable solution is confederation.