Cyprus, France to boost defense ties under cooperation deal

Cyprus says it will work with France to procure and develop arms and jointly train military personnel as part of a defense cooperation agreement

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Cyprus on Thursday said it would work with France to procure and develop arms and jointly train military personnel as part of a defense cooperation agreement.

According to a statement, the 2017 agreement that came into force this month also aims to bolster security at sea and around offshore hydrocarbon drilling areas, improve crisis management and combat extremism and piracy.

The agreement “constitutes an important step forward in achieving the common goal of ensuring a environment of stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean,” the statement said.

The Cyprus government has licensed French energy company Total which, along with partner Eni of Italy, will carry out exploratory drilling in seven of 13 areas, or blocks, south of the ethnically divided island nation.

Turkey, which doesn’t recognize European Union member Cyprus as a state, has dispatched warship-escorted research and drilling vessels in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, including in areas licensed to Total and Eni.

Turkey insists it’s acting to protect its interests and those of the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the region’s energy reserves.

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned Turkey’s actions and called for stronger sanctions against the country following talks with his Cypriot counterpart in Paris last month.

Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides on Wednesday urged the EU to pursue a more muscular policy with a larger military footprint in the eastern Mediterranean to fill a power void brought on by a perceived U.S. disengagement from the region.

Christodoulides told The Associated Press in an interview that Cyprus is ready to host an EU task force to achieve that goal. He said Macron will host a summit of the EU’s seven Mediterranean nations on Sept. 10 to discuss developments in the region.