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Lifting arms embargo on Cyprus could lead to insecurity in Mediterranean, Turkey warns

Cyprus National Guard holds a military parade in October 2020 in Strovolos. (File photo by In-Cyprus)

Turkey’s foreign ministry has strongly condemned a US decision to lift an arms embargo on Cyprus, warning that the measure could undermine the peace and stability of the Mediterranean.

The reaction came as the US State Department announced on Friday that defense trade restrictions for Cyprus for the fiscal year 2023 have been lifted, conditional on Nicosia continuing to block Russian warships from its ports.

Ankara noted in the Saturday statement that Washington’s 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,” said the ministry, asking the US to reconsider the decision and pursue a balanced policy toward the two sides on the island.

Nicosia welcomes US decision

Meanwhile, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades embraced the US decision on Saturday, saying he welcomed the announcement “on the complete lifting of the US arms embargo” on his country “with great satisfaction.”

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

Washington had imposed the embargo on the island in 1987, but reconsidered the decision in fear of making Cyprus seek other partners such as Russia. In December 2019, US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo to allow “non-lethal” military hardware to be exported.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defense articles.”

He also noted that the decision is subject to annual review while also being conditional on Cyprus' continuous cooperation with Washington, including on issues such as taking “the steps necessary to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and servicing.”

In 1974, Turkey launched an operation on the island to protect the island’s Turkish Cypriot community following a Greek-backed military coup to annex Cyprus. The island has since been divided into Cypriot-controlled northern and Greek Cypriot-controlled southern territories

Greek Cypriots run the island’s internationally recognized government, while Turkish Cypriots have a breakaway state in the north and claim the offshore resources there.

Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have been embroiled in a long-running territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over the region's resources.

Several rounds of negotiations have been held to solve the island’s issue but to no avail. The last round of talks was held in 2017 in Switzerland.

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