Labour’s ‘imperfect’ withdrawal from Nato’s Partnership allowed reactivation

Aided by Richard Cachia Caruana, the government exploited loopholes in the 1996 note verbale that terminated Malta’s participation in Partnership for Peace without having to seek approval from the House.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's remarkable defence of his ambassador to EU may have thrown a spanner in the works for Labour's attempt to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that Richard Cachia Caruana spent years manoeuvring in the dark to have Malta rejoin the stream of NATO's Partnership for Peace in 2008.

For the first time ever, a series of confidential memos presented to the parliamentary Foreign and European Affairs Committee shows that Labour's allegedly 'unconditional' withdrawal from PfP in 1996 did not include the termination of other agreements with NATO.

This provided the basis for what Cachia Caruana termed a "lateral thinking solution" to an impasse in which Malta, along with Cyprus, was being denied classified information from Nato available only to EU States which were either NATO members or PfP participants.

As early as November 2004, Cachia Caruana informed Gonzi that after meeting NATO secretary-general Javier Solana, it had transpired that the security agreement signed with NATO was still in force, because the note verbale from then foreign minister George Vella in 1996 "appears to denounce only the Individual Partnership Programme".

When Malta joined the PfP, it had signed four documents, namely: a framework document, a code of conduct, a security agreement, and the individual partnership programme.

But in his note verbale to Nato of 29 October, 1996, Vella stated that "Maltese participation in the Partnership for Peace Programme is herewith being terminated" - a termination, surely, but evidently not strong enough to kill Malta's association with the NATO programme.

It is unclear whether Vella's note verbale, in which he also pointed out that further participation in the PfP programme is constitutionally incompatible, had been all encompassing. But as Cachia Caruana told Gonzi in his 9 November 2004 memo, Malta's security agreement was actually still in place and that Malta's relationship with NATO "will continue to be the one determined by the Maltese government in October 1996".

The memo confirms the sentiment communicated by Jeremy Brunner, political military officer at the United States mission to the EU, in a 10 November, 2004 cable published by WikiLeaks, in which he highlights Cachia Caruana's strategy: "This would spare the Maltese government from requesting a divisive parliamentary vote to join PfP... according to his interpretation, the government of Malta can argue that they never withdrew from or renounced the security agreement they had entered into with NATO... nor did they rescind their adherence to the framework document." It is this particular sentiment that Labour is targeting, although the accusation that Cachia Caruana was acting on his own appears to be losing strength. It now appears clear that the Maltese government was intent to secure access to NATO's secrets without having to face the House of Representatives in asking for permission to rejoin PfP.

Brunner specifically points out the backdrop to "the Maltese initiative" is the fact that PfP membership was facing "difficult obstacles in the closely divided political environment" and that popular sentiment ran "50/50 over Malta rejoining PfP".

This week the Attorney General issued Lawrence Gonzi with a note that the PfP agreement was "not an international agreement concluded between States" and that it fell within the general powers of government.

The Opposition will surely disagree, but it has been caught napping on the technicalities: if Cachia Caruana is to resign, Labour's motion will have to rely on cannon fodder from Lawrence Gonzi's unhappy backbenchers. Which government MP will come out with guns blazing once the foreign affairs committee's parade absolves Cachia Caruana?

Why Turkey blocked Malta from NATO talks

Malta was denied access to NATO secrets because of the Berlin Plus Agreement (use of Nato common assets) applies only to members of NATO and those party to the Partnership for Peace. As early as 2004, Richard Cachia Caruana noted that Malta was expected to endorse EU actions without having access to the same documentation because they deal with Berlin Plus issues.

The reason for the strict rules for access to Berlin Plus documents was Turkey's fury over hardline Greek Cypriots blocking a United Nations peace plan to end the island's 30-year division. As the New York Times put it, "denying security clearance to Cyprus and Malta [both non-NATO members] is Turkey's way of showing its displeasure".

Luke Camilleri
Malta UZATA! Bhala bazi rieda RCC ghal Amerikani, u addio Indipendenza! hal ghadma biss issibulna, ahjar RCC uza l'energija tieghu fl-EU fejn qieghed Ambaxxatur biex iheggeg ftit aktar BURDEN SHARING fuq il-kwistjoni tal-immigranti illegali!