US lifts arms embargo on Cyprus, Turkey says move will lead to Mediterranean 'arms race'

US lifts arms embargo on Cyprus, Turkey says move will lead to Mediterranean ‘arms race’

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The United States will lift a long-standing arms embargo on Cyprus, which has angered NATO ally Turkey.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the conditions necessary under the relevant legislation to permit the approval of exports, re-exports and transfers of defense articles for fiscal year 2023,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday.

The US embargo on Cyprus has remained in place since 1987, as the island remained divided following a Turkish invasion which established a breakaway state. The embargo had forced Cyprus to look increasingly to Russia for arms because it could not even buy defensive weapons, such as night vision goggles, if they contained American components.

In order to get the embargo lifted, Cyprus had to put in place several financial regulatory oversight reforms, such as denying Russian military vessels access to ports, and ultimately met conditions that states States considered sufficient to prove that it was a reliable trading partner.

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Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), noted that Cyprus has been whitelisted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which means that Cyprus has fulfilled its transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes.

Cyprus Navy Special Forces and US Navy SEALS take part in a joint US-Cyprus rescue exercise in the harbor of the southern Cypriot port city of Limassol on September 10, 2021.
(Photo by IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP via Getty Images)

“It represents the last vestige of … Russification or the increase of Russian influence in Cyprus about a decade ago when Cyprus went through its banking crisis,” Zemenides told Fox News Digital. “People were saying, ‘hey, you know the Russians are hiding money or laundering money in Cyprus’, [and] Cyprus has become very aggressive on money laundering, has become very aggressive on banking transparency.”

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The United States had partially lifted the embargo in 2020 and allowed Cyprus to purchase non-lethal military goods, indicating that Cyprus was not far from a full lifting of the embargo.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the US decision as a “historic” announcement that brings him “great satisfaction”.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer walk during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 13, 2022.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer walk during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 13, 2022.
(Reuters/Yiannis Kourtoglou)

“This is a historic decision, reflecting the emerging strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of ​​security,” Anastasiades wrote on Twitter, then thanking Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., who worked with the country to ensure it meets the standards dictated by the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act 2019.

But Turkey’s Foreign Ministry urged the US to reconsider, saying failure to embargo would lead to ‘an arms race’ on the island that will damage peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean .

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The ministry said the decision would “further strengthen the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot side and negatively affect efforts to settle the Cyprus issue”.

Zemenides argued that any move by the United States at this stage would only anger Turkey, but the United States now views the eastern Mediterranean region as strategically important.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, May 14.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, May 14.
(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

“The Eastern Mediterranean has become a key region for the United States: it is a key battleground both in the battle against Russia and since a red line has never been applied in Syria,” he said. said Zemenides. “[Russia] increased its naval presence in the Mediterranean tenfold. Its base in Syria is ten times bigger, literally since 2014, and if you look at Cyprus, Cyprus is a permanent aircraft carrier.”

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“The United States’ security relationship with Cyprus because of this arms embargo simply did not serve the national security interests of the United States in a region where Russia is taking over, where China has extended its belt initiative and road,” he added. “Look at the coasts right in front of Cyprus: you have Hamas on these coasts, you have Hezbollah on these coasts, you have Islamic Jihad on our coasts, and not being able to have Cyprus as an asset because of this embargo on weapons was ridiculous. .”

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