Nicosia applauds landmark decision on US military training

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Nicosia on Thursday hailed a landmark decision by the United States to include Cyprus in its International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme for the first time.

“This is another action which contributes to further upgrading Cyprus’ relations with the United States while it is also a symbol of our country’s upgraded role as a pillar of stability, security and cooperation,” government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said in a written statement.

He said the Republic of Cyprus will continue to cooperate and enhance its relations with all countries, to attain the goal of stability and security in the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that for the first time, the US will provide military education and training funding to Cyprus to enhance relationships with key regional partners to promote stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The decision angered NATO ally Turkey, which warned of destabilization.

The US Congress last year ended a decades-long arms embargo on the island, whose northern third is occupied by Turkey.

Pompeo said the State Department for the first time will fund military training for Cyprus as part of “our expanding security relationship.”

“This is part of our efforts to enhance relationships with key regional partners to promote stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo told reporters.

The programme seeks to train foreign officers and increase friendly nations’ interoperability with the US military.

Turkey had warned against the end of the embargo, saying it would upset a balance of power on the island.

“As we repeatedly stressed in the past, this kind of steps do not contribute to efforts of finding a solution to the Cyprus problem but rather further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s uncompromising attitude,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

“It is clear that the steps do not observe the balance between the two sides it will not help restore an environment of trust on the island as well as restoring peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean,” it added in a statement.

The United States imposed the embargo in 1987 in a bid to avoid an arms race and encourage a peaceful resolution on the island.

Critics say the decision backfired by forcing Cyprus, now an EU member, to seek other partners, even as Turkey — despite its NATO membership — angered the United States by buying an advanced arms system from Russia.

Tensions have recently flared over Turkey’s drilling for gas off Cyprus with the European Union calling the move illegal.

US officials have encouraged the warming relations with Israel of both Cyprus and Greece underpinned by energy interests.