Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi is dangling cheap oil as bait to persuade Cyprus to accept a powerful Libyan radio propaganda station. The Maltese government earlier rejected the radio station and more recently expelled about 50 Libyan military personnel stationed in Malta.
Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff's government asked Aug. 30 for an urgent United Nations Council meeting to consider Libyan threats against Maltese offshore oil-drilling operations in disputed Mediterranean waters.
The radio-station proposal puts the government of Cyprus President Spiros Kyprianou in an awkward situation.
"Colone Qddafi might become very disagreeable if we don't let him relay his broadcasts from here," admitted one senior Cypriot official. "We're now selling Libya about $30 million a year in goods, mainly clothing and food. Greek Cypriots have lucrative construction and engineering contracts in Libya. And the oil deal would save us about $24 million a year, cutting over 15 percent from our annual oil bill."
The problem is that Colone Qaddafi is on bad terms with most of Cyprus's neighbors, except Turkey, whose Army has occupied northern Cyprus since 1974.
Not only nearby Israel, Colonel Qaddafi's archenemy, but Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and the Arab Gulf states, have privately informed Cyprus they do not want to hear Libyan broadcasts. The nation's "simply don't want to hear Qaddafi's voice, yakking at them and urging overthrow of what he calls their 'corrupt' and 'reactionary' regimes." one Cypriot insider said. "They have all told us so privately." Another factor weighing against the deal is that the Cyprus oil refinery at Larnaca is not well equiped to handle Libyan- grade crude oil -- a technicality that may provide Cyprus with an escape hatch.
Libyan Information Minister Muhammad Hegazi made the oil offer here in early July. It was about that time that Colonel Qaddafi literally embarrassed Greek and Turkish Cypriots on this divided island into ending their year-long deadlock and resuming Cyprus peace talks under united Nations auspices.
Colonel Qadaffi accomplished this by inviting President Kyprianou and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to Tripoli for peace talks under the Libyan leader's watchful eye.
Not wishing Colonel Qaddafi's good offices, both said, "Thanks, but no thanks." They are meeting here Sept. 15 under UN auspices instead.
Libyan emissaries started to press the package deal on the Cypriots immediately after Malta Prime Minister Mintoff closed Libya's powerful propaganda station and two Libyan-funded newspapers in Valletta, the Maltese capital, June 30.
"The very next day," said one Cypriot, "they were waiting in our offices, wanting to know if they could close the deal right away. We promised them a decision in September."
Libyan aid, investment, and students have inundated Malta, especially after Britain finally closed its giant Mediterranean base and naval dockyards there in March 1979. Cyprus, by contrast, has little Libyan investment or presence, other than an embassy here.
The long Maltese-Libyan relationship went sour after Libya halted its cheap oil deliveries to Mr. Mintoff, who now is diversifying Malta's supplies by buying Saudi Arabian and Iraqi crude oil. The final break came in late August. A westtern oil consortium, led by Texaco of the United States, suspended offshore drilling near Malta after Libyan warships warned drilling rig crews that they were working in "Libyan waters" -- a disputed zone.
Colonel Qaddafi forze operations of what had become a virtual joint Maltese-Libyan helicopter base at Malta's airport. About 50 Libyan pilots and air crew personnel were expelled from Malta.
A tactful no to Colonel Qaddafi is the most likely outcome of the Cypriots' dilemma.
"One more radio station, Cyprus doesn't need," said a Western businessman representing one of more than 600 foreign firms that have moved their offshore Mideast headquarters here since Lebanon's civil war destroyed Beirut as a business base.
Besides the Mediterranean relay station of the British Broadcasting Corporation at Limassol, Cyprus, is host to a relay for Radio Monte Carlo, a private French-funded station braodcasting mainly Arabic-language news and disc-jockey shows to Mideast audiences.
Britain operates a low-power station for its forces on the 99-square-mile sovereign British bases here. The state- owned Cyprus Braodcasting Corporation also reaches many Mideast countries in languages including Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Italian, as well as Greek and Turkish.
Often viewers in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and even Egypt can pick Cyprus television.