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CRISIS IN CYPRUS -- HON. ED WHITFIELD (Extension of Remarks - August 07, 1998)

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in the House of Representatives


  • Mr. WHITFIELD. Mr. Speaker, we are on the verge of yet another crisis in Cyprus.

  • The Greek Cypriots propose to purchase new S-300 missiles from Russia, and by all accounts, Russia intends to proceed with delivery of the missiles this fall. The installation of these sophisticated new antiaircraft missiles and accompanying powerful air surveillance radars needlessly escalates the level of military confrontation in Cyprus, and pushes the two sides further away from a more sensible path of mutual arms reductions. It also raises the disastrous prospect of conflict between two of our NATO allies, Turkey and Greece. Indeed, the placement of these missiles in Cyprus seems intended for no other reason than to provoke conflict.

  • The Cyprus problem has been with us for a long time. United Nations peacekeeping forces have been there for a quarter of this century. Some of our European allies have invested, and continue to invest, considerable effort in finding a long-term solution there. The United States, of course, is also actively engaged in diplomatic efforts in Cyprus. The problem is daunting and filled with frustrations. For example, I was disturbed to read last week that the Foreign Minister of Greece had referred to the President's efforts in Cyprus as `utter lies'. These kinds of remarks from senior government officials are not helpful.

  • I wish the Greek Cypriots would reconsider their decision to deploy these dangerous new missiles, but I fear that they will not. Unfortunately, restraint has not been a common feature of Cyprus' history. In light of this, I am very troubled that Russia will allow this sale to go forward. Russia is a member of the United Nations Security Council, and I simply cannot understand why President Yeltsin would permit these missiles to be sent into this explosive environment--particularly after repeated Security Council resolutions expressing concern about the introduction of sophisticated weaponry in Cyprus, and admonitions to all parties to avoid further expansion of military forces and armaments.

  • Mr. Speaker, some of my colleagues and I have sent a letter today to the President urging him to speak directly to President Yeltsin about this crisis, and to prevail upon him to cancel the S-300 missile transfer. At a time when Russia is looking to the United States and other members of the international community for help with its financial crisis, I think that Russia should understand that international cooperation is not a one-way street and not limited to the subject of finance. Like all of us, Russia has a responsibility to promote solutions, not new crises. I hope that President Yeltsin will see that this missile sale threatens to damage Russia's goodwill in the United States, and this makes it more difficult for us to cooperate on other issues.

  • A few weeks ago, some of my colleagues here spoke of the Cyprus problem, but the common message was not solution-oriented. Instead, we heard that one side in Cyprus was to blame for all its problems, and the other side was innocent. I want to suggest to my colleagues that taking sides in this old and complex problem is not constructive, and will not enhance the ability of the United States to be an effective catalyst for solutions. I also want to point out that the history is not so clear as some have suggested.

  • Even before this most recent crisis was precipitated by a weapons purchase from Russia, the last major crisis in 1974 began for reasons that some of us have forgotten. The American Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, succinctly summarized the events in his book, `Years of Upheaval':

After World War II, the old enemies Greece and Turkey were allies in NATO with a common stake in the security of the eastern Mediterranean. But their atavistic bitterness found a focus in the island of Cyprus, forty-four miles from mainland Turkey, with a population 80 percent Greek and about 20 percent Turk--a lethal cocktail.

As in many other nations of mixed nationalities, a tenuous civil peace had been possible while the island was under foreign rule. But when the British granted independence to the island in 1960, with Britain, Greece, and Turkey as guarantors of its internal arrangements, the subtle Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios III, leader of the Greek Cypriot community and of the campaign against British rule, found himself obliged to concede a degree of self-government to the Turkish minority, offensive to all his notions of government or nationality. He did not have his heart in it, and with independence he systematically reneged on what he promised, seeking to create in effect a unitary state in which the Turkish minority would always be outvoted. The history of independent Cyprus was thus plagued by communal strife, and in 1967 Turkey's threat to intervene militarily was aborted only at the last moment by a strong warning from President Johnson. It had become since an article of faith in Turkish politics that this submission to American preferences had been unwise and would never be repeated. I had always taken it for granted that the next communal crisis in Cyprus would provoke Turkish intervention.

Makarios nevertheless continued to play with fire. In 1972 he introduced Czech arms on the island for the apparent purpose of creating a private paramilitary unit to counterbalance those set up by the constitution. In 1974 he again took on the Greek-dominated National Guard in an effort to bring them under his control. Greece was then governed by a military junta, violently
anti-Communist, deeply suspicious of Makarios's flirtation with radical Third World countries, which it took to be a sign of his pro-Communist sympathies. It therefore encouraged plans to overthrow him and install in Cyprus a regime more in sympathy with Greece, oblivious to the fact than an overthrow of the constitutional arrangement on Cyprus would free Turkey of previous restraints. . . .

On July 15--six days after my return from the Soviet Union and Europe--Makarios was overthrown in a coup d'etat just as he returned from a weekend in the mountains; he was nearly assassinated. He was replaced by an unsavory adventurer, Nikos Sampson, known as a strong supporter of union with Greece. A crisis was now inevitable.

There was nothing we needed less than a crisis--especially one that would involve two NATO allies. Whomever we supported and whatever the outcome, the eastern flank of the Mediterranean would be in jeopardy. . . .

During the week of July 15 I therefore dispatched Joe Sisco to London, Ankara, and Athens. Britain, as one of the guarantor powers, was seeking to mediate between the parties. Sisco's mission was to help Britain start a negotiating process that might delay a Turkish invasion and enable the structure under Sampson in Cyprus to fall of its own weight. But Turkey was not interested in a negotiated solution; it was determined to settle old scores. On July 19 it invaded Cyprus, meeting unexpectedly strong resistance. . . .

During the night of July 21-22, we forced a cease-fire by threatening Turkey that we would move nuclear weapons from forward positions--especially where they might be involved in a war with Greece. It stopped Turkish military operations while Turkey was occupying only a small enclave on the island; this created conditions for new negotiations slated to start two days hence, with the Turkish minority obviously in an improved bargaining position and with some hope of achieving more equitable internal arrangements.

On July 22, the junta in Athens was overthrown and replaced by a democratic government under the distinguished conservative leader Constantine Karamanlis. Within days, the mood in America changed. The very groups that had castigated us for our reluctance to assault Greece now wanted us to turn against Turkey over a crisis started by Greece, to gear our policies to the domestic structures of the government in Athens and Ankara regardless of the origins or merits of the dispute on Cyprus, to take a one-sided position regardless of our interest in easing the conflict between two strategic allies in the eastern Mediterranean. . . . For two weeks we maintained our tightrope act, but during the weekend following Nixon's resignation the crisis erupted again, culminating in a second Turkish invasion of the island. While Ford struggled to restore executive authority over the next months, a freewheeling Congress destroyed the equilibrium between the parties we had precariously maintained; it legislated a heavy-handed arms embargo against Turkey that destroyed all possibility of American mediation--at a cost from which we have not recovered to this day. . . .

  • What I learn from this is that we do a disservice to ourselves and to the cause of peace in Cyprus by being too quick to take sides in the matter. The situation requires a steady hand and an honest broker, and we do not contribute either if the Congress of the United States is waving the flag of one of the parties to the dispute.

  • I hope the President can persuade our friends in Russia to adopt this same approach, and to abandon this very dangerous new transfer of weapons to Cyprus.

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