US partially lifts Cyprus arms embargo

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The United States will lift a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus and deepen its security cooperation with Nicosia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, prompting an angry response from Turkey.

Washington placed restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus in 1987 to encourage reunification efforts and avoid an arms race on the island.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades had on Tuesday afternoon a telephone conversation with Pompeo who informed him of the US decision to lift the embargo imposed in 1987 on Cyprus as regards the sales of non-lethal weapons.

“Cyprus is a key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “We will waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal defence articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus for the coming fiscal year.”

Cypriot government spokesman, Kyriakos Koushos said in a written statement that this development constitutes recognition of Cyprus’ role in the region and indicates the importance which the US and Nicosia attribute to strengthening their bilateral relations, particularly in the defence and security area.

The decision comes amid escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean between NATO allies Turkey and Greece over claims to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter after a phone call with Pompeo that he welcomed the move.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the decision “disregards the equality and balance” on the island and that Ankara expects its NATO ally to “review” it.

“Otherwise, Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people,” it said in a statement.

Ankara and Athens both say they are ready to solve the dispute through dialogue while insisting on upholding their own rights. They each held military exercises in the region, highlighting the potential for the dispute to escalate.