With growing tension with the United States, which wants a greater military presence in Greece and maybe another base there, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he’ll increase an army on divided Cyprus but not another installation.
“We will not decrease the number of our soldiers there but on the contrary, we will increase them,” Erdogan told reporters on en route from Azerbaijan to Turkey, responding to media reports suggesting plans to establish a military base in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper.
“We do not have a base problem” in the occupied northern third of the island held since an unlawful in 1974, he said, noting that Turkey is so close to Cyprus it doesn’t need another military base or operation there as Turkish troops, fighter jets and Navy could be there quickly in case of a conflict.
“It will take only minutes to reach the Mediterranean. This does not apply to Greece. We do not need to establish a base there,” he said.
It was Erdogan’s insistence on keeping a 30,000-strong army on Cyprus, now to be increased, which scuttled unity talks in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, along with his demand for the right to militarily intervene – invade – again when he wants.
That led Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to walk away from the bargaining table although he said he’s open to talking again, but only if Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci drop their military demands and adhere to United Nations guidelines, which they said they won’t.
Erdogan’s plans to add to the Turkish army could set back any hopes for resumption of talks being sought by UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, who has met separately with Anastasiades and Akinci but, like a long line of diplomats before who failed to get either side to budge for decades, didn’t get any assurances negotiations could resume.
Anastasiades stopped in Athens on Sept. 17 to meet Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to talk about the problem before the opening of the United Nations General Assembly annual opening later this month.
Greece, along with Turkey and the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which still has a military base on Cyprus, are guarantors of security on the island, along with a UN peacekeeping force patrolling the dividing Green Line through the Capital of Nicosia.
Before going to New York, Anastasiades was due to attend an Informal Summit of EU heads of state or government in Salzburg, Austria on Sept. 20.
He is expected to address the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27, a day before meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was at the Swiss talks but failed to broker a deal and then issued a report blaming nobody for anything, only to say an historic opportunity for a resolution had been missed yet once again.