Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

The US stirs the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean

The impact of the lifting of the US arms embargo on Cyprus

The relationship between Cyprus and the United States has just entered a new chapter. Washington has provisionally lifted the arms embargo it had in place against the Republic of Cyprus since the 1970s. The Republic of Cyprus will thus be able to develop its armed forces from now on in accordance with contemporary military standards.

In 1959–1960, the three guarantor states (UK, Greece and Turkey) and the two biggest communities (Greek and Turkish Cypriot) on the island came to an agreement that led to the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus as a bi-communal state. On August 16, 1960, a new state took over as the island’s administrator from the British colonial government, but within three years, it was mired in civil unrest.

The Turkish Cypriots left the bi-communal state at the end of 1963 because of the Greek Cypriots’ attempt to unilaterally change the Constitution. Then violent bi-communal confrontations started, which lasted until mid-1974. Turkish Cypriots congregated in ghettos spread around the island during this time, and with Turkey’s help, they established alternative state structures.

Between July and August 1974, bi-communal tensions and a failed Greek junta coup attempt to topple the Cypriot government led to Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus and the de facto division of the island. In response to the events on the island, the US imposed an embargo on the parties concerned.

A few days ago, the US government made the historic decision to completely lift the arms embargo imposed on the Republic of Cyprus in 1987. This decision was made in Washington under the shadow of the tensions that have persisted in recent years in Turkey-Western relations and the intensification of US multilateral cooperation with Greece and Cyprus.

The new decision by the US

Because of the removal of prohibitions on the sale of weaponry, the US Government is moving toward normalizing its defense relations with the Republic of Cyprus. The East Med Act of 2019 and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the year 2020, however, require the US President to certify to the relevant congressional committees that the Republic of Cyprus continues to cooperate with the US government in several crucial areas, so the lifting of the embargo will continue to be renewed annually.

In order to approve exports, re-exports, and transfers of defense equipment to the Republic of Cyprus for fiscal year 2023, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has satisfied all requirements set forth in the applicable laws. Every year, the conditions’ compliance will be evaluated. The Minister (Foreign Affairs) shall lift the defense trade restrictions for the Republic of Cyprus for the fiscal year 2023 because of this decision and certification. On October 1, 2022, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) will be updated to reflect the new policy.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Cooperation Act (East Med Act) of 2019 and the FY 2020 Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) stipulate that the policy of denial for exports, re-exports, or transfers of defense materiel to Cyprus must stay on the United States’ war materiel list unless the President determines and certifies to the relevant congressional committees at least annually that the Cyprus Government continues to cooperate with the USA to implement ref. The State Department annually reviews conformity with the two laws.

Cyprus welcomes the decision

In September 2020, when Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State called Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides to announce the partial relaxation of the embargo, the first significant step in the new direction was made. As long as the partial removal of the embargo was repeated by order each year, this event had opened the door for the sale of US non-lethal weapons to Cyprus.

Cyprus applauded Washington’s fresh course of action. In the Τwitter, President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus expressed his happiness with the choice, and the defense and foreign affairs ministries both praised it.

“It is with great satisfaction that I welcome the announcement by ?? @StateDept on the complete lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus??. This is a landmark decision, reflecting the burgeoning strategic relationship”, wrote on Twitter the President of Cyprus. “I also want to officially congratulate Senator Menendez for all the work that made this resolution possible today, which is under the 2019 resolution on Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Cooperation,” Anastasiades stated, praising the role of the American Senator Robert Menendez in the new development.

The Cypriot Ministry of Defense also offered its gratitude and appreciation. “As we progressively advance an irreversible security and defense collaboration, this deepens our cooperation and marks the beginning of a new era in our bilateral relationships”, stated the ministry’s declaration.

“We welcome the State Department’s decision to proceed with the full lifting of the 1987 arms embargo against Cyprus: A political milestone that shows the continued deepening of US-Cyprus strategic cooperation on Security and Defense as an integral part of the regional stability mosaic,” the Cypriot Foreign Ministry finally stated.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias’ initial response to the fresh development was, “I welcome and express my great delight with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision to fully relax the US arms embargo on Cyprus.”

Historical development

The United States of America’s decision to relax the arms embargo imposed on the Republic of Cyprus in 1987, according to Cypriot journalist Nikolas Zannetos, is “one of the most significant occurrences since the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus.”

The journalist claims that the US’s decision to take this action was motivated by the facts that Cyprus and the US officially declared their intent to forge significant openings in 2018 by signing a declaration of intent; the docking of Russian warships when the EU and the US were imposing sanctions against Russia was problematic. Problematic was also the long-standing stain of money laundering on the Republic of Cyprus. With the help of Washington, Nicosia now confronts these problems.

“The Americans have demanded the tightening of controls by Cypriot banks to end the suspicious dealings of Russian oligarchs and recently moved to establish the Cyclops training centre in Larnaca, while in recent years a series of bilateral and multilateral military exercises have been held” underlines Zannetos who adds: “Cyprus is finally taking a stand and placing itself in its natural space, the West. This is when Russia’s behavior leaves no room for EU and NATO member states to make diplomatic maneuvers. Those who choose this direction will eventually suffer consequences. One such example is Turkey.”

Turkey, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Communist disagree

As expected, the new action by Washington was met with vehement reactions from Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots. The two allies voiced the opinion that the latest US approach will complicate developments in the Eastern Mediterranean in statements that were widely reported by the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot press. Unsurprisingly similar opinions were made by Greek communists.

“We denounce the expansion of the decision taken by the U.S. in September 2020 to lift the arms embargo towards the Greek Cypriot Administration (Cyprus Republic). We fully support the reaction of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) authorities regarding the said decision. This decision, which contradicts the principle of equality of the two sides on the Island, and which will further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence, will negatively affect the efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue; and it will lead to an arms race on the Island, harming peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.” was the first reaction of the Turkish Foreign Ministry to Washington’s new decision.

In response to the new development, the internationally non-recognized “TRNC” issued a written statement in which it stated: “It is clear who the aim of the weaponry and military equipment that the US Administration would deliver to the Greek Cypriot side is.” As stated in the announcement, “It is worth emphasizing once more that we expect all third parties, including the US, to stop supporting the provocative policies of the Greek Cypriots and help the two States on the island reach a sustainable agreement based on their equal status as sovereign nations and within the international community.”

From a different angle, the Communist Party of Greece approached the new decision of the US leadership negatively. The party expressed in writing that it believed “the celebrations of the forces of “Euro-Atlanticism” for the US to fully lift the arms embargo on Cyprus, imposed in 1987, attempt to conceal the painful reality experienced by the Cypriot people because of the island’s involvement in imperialist plans and animosities.” “The partial removal of the US arms embargo in 2020 not only did not stop the Cyprus problem, but it also sets it on a more perilous trajectory. It is the aim of Euro-Atlantic imperialism to support a plan for the island’s division and preserve Turkey’s 48-year occupation of 37% of Cypriot territory. In order to compete with Russia, US-NATO plans are more fully integrating Cyprus, which is already used as a NATO base. The general hostilities in the area are stoked by this policy, which also raises the risks for the Cypriot people and the other residents of the area,” the KKE adds.

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