Turkey condemns US decision to lift Cyprus arms embargo

Ankara says Washington’s decision will ‘negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue’.

A couple walk past a UN guard post at the fence that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriots area in Cyprus
A couple walk past a United Nations guard post at the fence that divides Cyprus, which was split in 1974 [File: AP]

Turkey condemned a move by the United States to fully lift its weapons embargo on the divided island of Cyprus starting in 2023, warning it could start an arms race.

The foreign ministry said on Saturday the decision would “further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue”.

“It will lead to an arms race on the island, harming peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean,” a ministry statement said, calling on the US to reconsider and pursue a balanced policy towards the two sides.

The Mediterranean island has been divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state in the north set up after a Turkish invasion launched in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the military government then ruling Greece.

The US imposed the arms embargo on the whole of Cyprus in 1987 in the hope it could encourage its reunification.

Barred access to American weapons, Cyprus turned to Russia to procure Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks, and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems.

‘Complete lifting’

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades welcomed on Saturday the “landmark” decision by Washington to fully lift a decades-old embargo, conditional on Nicosia continuing to block Russian warships from its ports.

Anastasiades expressed “great satisfaction” over the announcement “on the complete lifting of the US arms embargo” on his country, the most easterly member of the European Union.

“This is a landmark decision reflecting the burgeoning strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of security,” he said.

Critics said the embargo was counterproductive by forcing the Republic of Cyprus to seek other partners while Turkey, a NATO member, had stationed forces in its self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since its 1974 invasion.

“Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday, adding defence trade restrictions would end in 2023.

In December 2019, the US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo to allow “non-lethal” military hardware to be exported. Washington had been concerned the ban brought Cyprus closer to Russia with the island in 2015 signing off on an access deal to its ports.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish occupation triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Since then, the Republic of Cyprus has been run by a Greek Cypriot administration.

Source: News Agencies