US lift arms embargo on Cyprus, Turkey says decision will lead to an “arms race” in the Mediterranean

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The US will lift a long-standing arms embargo on Cyprus in a move that angered NATO ally Turkey.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has fulfilled the necessary conditions under the relevant legislation to allow for the approval of exports, re-exports and transfers of articles of defense for the 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 that established a breakaway state. The embargo forced Cyprus to increasingly turn to Russia for weapons as it could not even purchase defensive weapons, such as night vision goggles, if they contained American components.

To achieve the lifting of the embargo, Cyprus had to implement several financial regulatory oversight reforms, such as denying Russian naval vessels access to ports, and eventually met the conditions that the United States deemed sufficient to prove itself a trading partner. reliable.

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Endy Zemenides, executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), noted that Cyprus has entered the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) white list, which means that Cyprus has fulfilled its transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes.

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

“This represents the latest trace of … Russification or growing Russian influence in Cyprus about ten years 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, it has become very aggressive on banking transparency “.

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

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the US decision as a “landmark” 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 on July 13, 2022.

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

“This is a historic decision, reflecting the thriving strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of ​​security,” Anastasiades wrote on Twitter, thanking Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J., who worked with the country to make sure it meets the standards set by the East Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019.

But the Turkish foreign ministry has urged the United States to reconsider its decision, arguing that the lack of an embargo will 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 “will further strengthen the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot side and adversely affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue”.

Zemenides said any decision the US makes at this point will only anger Turkey, but the US now considers the Eastern Mediterranean region strategically important.

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

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

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

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“US security relations with Cyprus due to this arms embargo simply did not serve US national security interests in a region where Russia is recovering, where China has extended its belt and road initiative. “, he added. “Look at the coasts right in front of Cyprus: you have Hamas on those shores, you have Hezbollah on those shores, you have Islamic Jihad on our shores and not being able to have Cyprus as an asset because of this arms embargo was ridiculous.”

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