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Lifting US arms embargo no threat to Turkey

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A decision by Washington to lift a decades-long arms embargo imposed on Cyprus means the country is better defended but not a threat to anyone, said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

He said it is a “positive development” that highlights the good relations between Cyprus and USA.

Kasoulides is in New York, where appointing an envoy for Cyprus will be the focus of his contacts at the UN General Assembly.

He said lifting the arms embargo results from greater cooperation between Cyprus and the United States, especially regarding regional security.

Asked about the message the announcement of the State Department sends to the Turkish side, Kasoulides said, “everyone should get the message they understand”.

“For us, this is part of the framework of good relations between Cyprus and USA, especially on issues pertaining to stability and security, and this is our interpretation.”

“Any reinforcement of Cyprus’ national defence is not directed against anyone because defence means the country is defending itself in case someone turns against it.”

Kasoulides will participate in a series of meetings and attend a dinner on transatlantic relations hosted by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for the Foreign Ministers of EU and NATO countries.

On Friday, the United States announced that it completely lifts an arms embargo on Cyprus.

The State Department’s spokesperson, Ned Price, said Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus had met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles to the Republic for the fiscal year 2023.

Compliance with the conditions is assessed on an annual basis.

President Nicos Anastasiades on Saturday welcomed the “historic” decision to fully lift the arms embargo on condition that Nicosia continues to block the entry of Russian warships into its ports.

Washington imposed an arms embargo on Cyprus in 1987 to encourage reunification of the island.

Turkish forces invaded the north in 1974 in response to a coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists who wanted it to be part of Greece.

With the sanctions, the United States hoped to stop the arms race and promote a peaceful solution between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority.

Anastasiades tweeted: “This is a historic decision, which reflects the growing strategic ties between the two countries, including in the area of ​​security.”

Some analysts say the US sanctions had the opposite effect, forcing Cyprus to look for other partners.

US officials had raised concerns that the sanctions would bring Cyprus closer to Russia, as Nicosia signed a deal with Moscow in 2015 that allowed the Russian navy to access its ports.

In December 2019, the US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo allowing the export of “non-lethal” military equipment.

With the embargo completely lifted, Cyprus must “continue to cooperate” with Washington, including “continuing to take necessary steps to deny Russian military ships access to ports for refuelling and maintenance”.

The EU has closed European ports to Russian ships as part of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey

Turkey’s foreign ministry said it strongly condemned the expansion of a decision taken by the United States in September 2020 to lift its arms embargo on Cyprus.

It said this 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,” the statement said.

Ankara called on the United States to reconsider its decision and to pursue a “balanced” policy toward the two sides on the island.