Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Cyprus matters for the United States

A guest column today to commemorate the 33rd summer since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Despite repeated U.N. resolutions calling for Turkey to end its illegal occupation of Cyprus, Turkey continues to violate international law.

Cyprus: An Important Partner for U.S. Strategic Interests in the Region

Why is Cyprus an important and reliable partner for U.S. strategic interests in the region? The answer begins with location, location and location. Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, is 125 plus miles from Lebanon, 100 plus miles to Israel, 250 plus miles to Egypt and 40 miles to Turkey.

Cyprus is a stationary aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus has three airfields including the British RAF Akrotiri airfield in the so-called “British Sovereign Areas” which is Cyprus territory. The other two airfields are at Larnaca on the east side of Cyprus and at Paphos on the western end of the island.

The RAF Akrotiri airbase was used by the U.S. in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and again in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and up to the present time.

Cyprus has two deep water harbors capable of accommodating the largest U.S. aircraft carriers and amphibious ships.

The listening posts in the Troodos Mountains are the finest in the entire region and cover not only the Middle East but also Russia. During the Cold War these listening posts provided needed information on the Soviet Union's nuclear activities and other military information and for verifying past or possible future Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) agreements. They remain most important today for U.S. interests. There are listening posts also in the British base areas.

During both the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars with Iraq, the Cyprus government authorized military overflights which were very important to U.S. efforts.

Cyprus lies adjacent to the commercial shipping lanes in the Eastern Mediterranean including energy shipments through the Suez Canal.

The U.S. Embassy in Cyprus has major responsibilities in the region, beyond representing the U.S. in Cyprus, because of the strategic location of Cyprus.

Cyprus is a major staging area for the region.

Cyprus is a major logistics hub for the region with a modern highway system connecting key cities and transportation nodes.

Cyprus' government and business leaders understanding of and close ties with the people and the governments in the Middle East and North Africa are of value for U.S. interests and could be of substantially more value.

Most important is the fact that the Greek Cypriots are a European people and strongly pro-West, pro-Europe and yes, pro-American. They may not agree on some of our policies- such as the double standard on the rule of law for Turkey and the appeasement of Turkey- but they are still pro-American.

Cyprus played a critical role in July 2006 in the evacuation of 15,000 Americans from Lebanon after the start of the Lebanon War of 2006. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah paramilitary forces in Lebanon fired rockets and mortars at Israeli border villages. Another Hezbollah group crossed into Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others as hostages.

Israel responded swiftly and massively with airstrikes and artillery fire against targets throughout Lebanon which caused substantial damage to civilian infrastructures including Lebanon's key airport, the Rafic Hariri International Airport at Beirut. In effect Lebanon had been isolated from the rest of the world by the Israeli forces.

The U.S. Ambassador in Beirut requested the U.S. Defense Department's assistance in the evacuation of 15,000 American citizens. The government of Cyprus and the people of free Cyprus, under the leadership of President Tassos Papadopoulos, played an essential part in the evacuation of upwards of 40,000 tourists from Lebanon including 15,000 Americans.

U.S. Navy Commander Peter Stamatopoulos who commanded a key U.S. unit on Cyprus coordinating the evacuation for the U.S. Navy stated:

      “We were very fortunate to have had the Republic of Cyprus open her arms to our country and citizens. A gargantuan effort was exerted by Cypriots in helping Americans entering Cyprus from Lebanon on their return home. This small island in the peak of the tourist season opened its seas, homes and hearts to nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens in need.” (Emphasis in original.)

Cyprus could play an even more helpful role for U.S. interests in spreading democracy and the rule of law in the region when Turkey’s 43,000 illegal military forces and 160,000 illegal settlers/colonists are removed from the island and the Turkish barbed wire fence across the face of Cyprus is removed and the country reunified.

Turkey's military is the main obstacle to reunification of Cyprus. The ruling AK party in Turkey won a substantial victory in the elections on July 22, 2007 over the military backed party and other parties. Now let us see whether AK will take steps to achieve a just and workable settlement of the Cyprus problem.

In its own interests the U.S. should apply adequate diplomatic, political and economic pressure on Turkey to get out of Cyprus and let the Greek and Turkish Cypriots negotiate a just and workable constitution.

Call and write to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ask them to apply such pressure to the aggressor and occupier, Turkey, to get out of Cyprus in the interests of the U.S.


Gene Rossides is president of the American Hellenic Institute in Washington, D.C. For more information on the Cyprus issue or other Greek-American issues, visit the group's Web site at:

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