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Russia: U.S. Joins Protests Over Russian Weapons Sale To Cyprus

Washington, 7 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States says the decision by the government of Cyprus to buy anti-aircraft weapons from Russia adds a new and destabilizing element to the divided island and to the entire Aegean Sea region.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said yesterday the United States is urging the Greek Cypriot government and Russia to cancel the sale.

Tensions between the Greek and Turkish populations on Cyprus are high. There is a United Nations peacekeeping mission on the island and efforts have been underway for years to reunify Cyprus.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied the island's northern third. Turkish Cypriots created their own state in 1983, but it has been recognized only by Turkey, which has nearly 35,000 troops in the Turkish sector.

Cyprus confirmed on Saturday that was going to conclude an agreement with Russia to buy a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system. The Russian news agency ITAR-Tass quoted a Foreign Ministry official in Moscow yesterday as saying that Russia saw no reason to stop its military cooperation with Cyprus.

Burns says the United States is making a strong protest over the weapons deal. He says the agreement can only have negative consequences. Cyprus, he says, is already heavily militarized and the purchase of new weapons by the Greek Cypriot government will not help the situation.