In an announcement on Tuesday, the United States Department of State said it would lift a 33-year embargo of sales of “non-lethal” arms against the Republic of Cyprus.
In a Tweet, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move.
“The Republic of Cyprus is a key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean. I am pleased to announce that we are deepening our security cooperation. We will waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal defense articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus for the coming fiscal year.”
While the move was hailed by Athens and numerous observers in the United States, the government of Turkey slammed the decision and threatened “decisive counter measures.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. decision “ignores the equality and balance between the two peoples on the island.”
“It is certain that this decision will also have negative effects on the efforts to reach a settlement to the Cyprus issue,” referring to the four-decade illegal occupation of one third of the country by Turkish troops.
Ironically, the Turkish government which is viewed by the majority of the world as the aggressor in recent weeks added that the U.S. decision “poisons the peace and stability”’in the region.
Turkey has sent exploratory ships into Greek territorial waters, prompting stern responses from France and a threat of sanctions by the European Union.
“In a time, where efforts are spent to reduce the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US’s approval of such a decision, which poisons the peace and stability environment in the region, does not comply with the spirit of alliance,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement said.
“We expect the US to reconsider this decision and support the ongoing efforts to establish peace and stability in the region, otherwise, Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary decisive counter steps to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people, in line with its legal and historical responsibilities.”
The decision comes after years of lobbying by numerous Greek American organizations, including the American Hellenic Institute in Washington which placed significance on lifting the embargo back in 2018 when they issued a lengthy and detailed policy brief.
AHI pressed the State Department hard with regular letters and public affairs outreach, including a jointly-authored op-ed with U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis that was published in The Hill.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he was “delighted to see recognition of the importance of our relationship with Cyprus, a reliable strategic partner for our nation.”
Menendez added that “It is in our national security interest to lift these outdated decades-long arms restrictions and deepen our security relationship with the Republic of Cyprus. While long overdue, allowing sales of non-lethal security equipment, coupled with the earlier announcement of a U.S. military and education training program, reflects the critical importance of the U.S.-Republic of Cyprus bilateral relationship and the growing importance of the Eastern Mediterranean region to U.S. national security interests.”
Menendez’s statement of support was accompanied by a chorus of support for the State Department’s action by a host of American organizations following developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Order of Ahepa, a U.S.-based organization serving the Greek American community with a long history of advocacy for Greek and Cyprus concerns in Washington, also hailed the decision, through a statement from the organization’s President.
“We commend the Trump administration for recognizing it is in the best interest of the United States to take this action that further enhances relations between the United States and the Republic of Cyprus,” Ahepa’s Supreme President George G. Horiates said.
“The United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as a strategic partner, especially in combating terrorism and providing regional stability, and this partial lifting of the prohibition of arms is the next logical step in the relationship’s progression that began with 2018’s Statement of Intent agreement,” Horiates’ statement continued.
Endy Zemenides, another vocal and active proponent of lifting the embargo called the move a “significant leap forward” and directly tied the move to a greater split with Turkey.
“Thanks to the East Med Act, the State Department was given the impetus to take a significant leap forward in the U.S. relationship with Cyprus. It also signals that Ankara is no longer being given a veto over the bilateral relationship between Washington and Nicosia,” said Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, a Chicago-based organization that has spent the better part of the past seven years lobbying the State Department for better treatment of Cyprus as a valuable American ally.
The leading figure in the American Jewish community also added his support.
“Secretary Pompeo’s action is a milestone in the U.S.-Cyprus bilateral relationship, one that will have a positive effect on the increasingly integrated Eastern Mediterranean,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris in a joint statement with the Hellenic American Leadership Council.
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