NICOSIA, Cyprus — France has established a military foothold in the eastern Mediterranean through a military-cooperation pact with Cyprus that was immediately denounced by NATO ally Turkey.
The agreement, signed last week, follows six months of negotiations and reflects France’s avowed aim of pursuing a military policy independent of NATO.
A statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the Greek-Cypriot government had no right to “sign such agreements, which would contribute to the instability of the region.” Both France and Turkey are members of NATO.
The Greek-Cypriot government responded to what officials described as a “predictable Turkish reaction” by saying: “We can sign agreements with whomever we want.”
Turkey’s anger with Cyprus followed last month’s decision to offer tenders for exploration rights in a potential oil field in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and Lebanon. Turkey feels that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, backed by 30,000 Turkish troops, should be part of all such agreements.
The French-Cypriot military pact was signed by Foreign Minister George Lillikas of Cyprus and French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie in what probably was a last major act of the current government in France before the spring presidential elections.
The agreement calls for the training in France of Cypriot army officers, joint military exercises and joint efforts to halt the flow of illegal aliens from the Middle East to the shores of Europe.
Above all, it grants France the use of the Andreas Papandreou air base near Paphos, southern Cyprus, built by Greece to provide air cover in case of conflict with Turkey. The base was used by the French during last summer’s evacuation of French citizens from Lebanon.
Cypriot officials feel the agreement gives France “an infrastructure in the vicinity of war zones,” which will boost the French intervention capability. France has 36,000 troops abroad, with garrisons in some of its former African colonies and others in international peacekeeping operations.
Independence from U.S. decision-making has been the theme of the French foreign policy and military doctrine since the 1960s, when it withdrew from NATO’s military wing while remaining in the alliance’s political structure.
Candidates in the current presidential campaign have reaffirmed that posture, with Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading conservative candidate, calling for an independent “European defense identity and friendly but not submissive relations with the United States.”
Miss Alliot-Marie repeated recently that France did not need to rejoin the alliance’s military structure but also described NATO as “our ultimate security guarantee.”