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US sees Cyprus as ‘key partner’ to counter ‘malign’ actors

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The security relationship between the U.S. and Cyprus continues to grow and Washington sees Cyprus as a “key partner” in the eastern Mediterranean, the American ambassador said on Wednesday, following a partial lifting of a 33-year arms embargo.

Judith Garber said that the temporary waiving of the arms embargo on Cyprus for “non-lethal” and defensive items, will be for one year, but is not related to efforts to persuade Cyprus to deny Russian military vessels access to ports on the island for refuelling.

Non-lethal or less-lethal items are considered to be anything that does not kill, such as firearms or knives, and could range from pepper spray and taser guns to surveillance equipment.

The waiver, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday evening will come into effect on October 1, “and will be reviewed on an annual basis”, the ambassador told reporters at a U.S. embassy briefing in Nicosia.

She said that the waiver for the non-lethal military equipment is not aimed at Turkey but concerns the wider security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean, “to counter malign actors in the region”.

“Russia is playing a very destabilising role in the region, particularly in Syria,” Garber said.

Asked about Ankara’s harsh criticism of the waiver decision, the U.S. ambassador said the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus was not aimed at Turkey.

“I look forward to continued partnership responding to issues of shared concern like non-proliferation, trafficking, and counterterrorism threats.”

A U.S. embassy statement said: “Secretary Pompeo informed President Anastasiades of his decision to temporarily waive restrictions for FY 2021 on the export, reexport, retransfer, and temporary import of non-lethal defense articles and defense services controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) destined for or originating in Cyprus.”

It added: “The Republic of Cyprus is an important partner, and we look forward to continuing to deepen our bilateral relationship to promote stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

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.

It is widely believed that the lifting a three-decades-old arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus, imposed after NATO-ally Turkey invaded and occupied the north of the island in 1974, was conditional on Nicosia accepting to deny Russian warships and military aircraft any access to its ports and airports, as long as it was supporting the regime in Syria, the only exception being a port call on humanitarian grounds.

It also includes U.S. military and education training programmes.

Friends of Cyprus in Congress, as well as Greek and Jewish American lobby groups, welcomed the decision the waiver on restrictions, part of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, a law that provides a comprehensive recalibration of American diplomatic, military, and economic policy towards the region.

Senator Robert Menendez who introduced the EastMed Act in 2018 was “delighted to see recognition of the importance of our relationship with Cyprus, a reliable strategic partner for our nation.

“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,” Menendez said.