Cypriot presidential candidate Averof Neophytou says NATO membership would be a “natural development” for the Republic of Cyprus, a divided island that continues to raise tensions between the western alliance’s members Greece and Turkey.
The leader of DISY, the conservative ruling party that has backed the government since 2013, was a guest on state radio Friday morning when the presidential candidate called for Cyprus to become a NATO member.
“A membership into NATO would be a natural development,” Neophytou said.
The presidential hopeful also pointed out that Cyprus was the only EU state that was not taking part in the Partnership for Peace organization, which is a lobby entrance for the western alliance.
'We are ready, after the elections, to submit... our proposal for the resumption of dialogue: security and energy, in conjunction with Cyprus' application for NATO membership'
Talk about joining NATO has been a political oddity for Cyprus, an ethnically-divided island between Greek Cypriots in the recognized south and Turkish Cypriots in the north that is not recognized by any country except Turkey.
Asked by the radio host how would a future president handle Turkish opposition to a divided Cyprus joining NATO, Neophytou conceded that Ankara would not accept it without a solution but said there could be pressure in areas such as energy.
“If enough conditions are stated, along with other prospects, the potential is there,” Neophytou said.
Last year outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades was invited to join a NATO dinner in Spain, where EU leaders had also been invited. Anastasiades, who rejects any Cyprus solution with Turkey as a guarantor power, has suggested NATO could fulfill that role, while in the past he had favored the island parntering up with Partnership for Peace.
Cyprus is not the only EU state that is not in NATO. Austria, Ireland, and Malta are also outside the western alliance, while Finland and Sweden recently became candidates for membership.
The Turkey factor
But Turkey has raised serious issues with the Nordic applicants, especially Sweden, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Stockholm and Oslo to a lesser extent of protecting PKK terrorists and Gulenist supporters who conspire against Ankara.
EU and NATO leaders have been rubbing shoulders for some time, drawing criticism from Moscow that has accused Europeans of toeing an American anti-Russia line and being “hasty” in supporting Kiev after Russians troops were ordered into Ukraine.
Non-EU NATO members Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia all aspire to join the European bloc.
Back in November Neophytou said he was ready for a NATO path for Cyprus.
“We are ready, after the elections, to submit to the international community our proposal for the resumption of the dialogue: security and energy, in conjunction with Cyprus' application for NATO membership,” Neophytou said in November.
Earlier this week Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called out traditional friends Greece and Cyprus for having been “transformed” following American advice.
Lavrov’s comments drew an immediate respone from Anastasiades who said Nicosia went along with EU sanctions against Moscow because it could not be expected that “we would be the stigma of Europe, in other words the dissenters.”
Presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus are set to take place next month. Greece and Turkey are also holding elections this year.