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Turkey slams US over lifting Cyprus arms embargo

September 2, 2020

Turkey has urged the US to reconsider lifting a 33-year arms embargo against Cyprus, saying it will hurt regional stability. Washington's move to lift the ban comes amid a standoff between Turkey and Greece.

Warships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France during a drill off southern Turkey in late August
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Griechisches Verteidigungsministerium

Turkey on Wednesday called on the US to review its decision to partially lift an arms embargo imposed on Cyprus in the late 1980s.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized Washington's move as one that would hurt efforts to reunify the Mediterranean island and harm regional stability.

"In a period in which efforts are being made to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US' signing of such a decision poisons regional peace and stability," the ministry said in a statement.

Divided island

Ankara's reaction comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday that the US would lift the arms embargo in part for one year to enable the purchase of non-lethal equipment.

Cyprus has been divided into an internationally recognized southern Greek Cypriot part and a Turkish Cypriot region in the north, recognized only by Turkey, since a Turkish invasion in 1974. The embargo was directed only at the Greek Cypriot part and aimed to avoid an arms race on the island and facilitate UN-backed efforts to reunite it.

Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said in a statement that the move indicated "the importance which the US and Cyprus attribute to strengthening their bilateral relations, particularly in defense and security."

Tensions over exploration

The US' move comes as tensions escalate between Turkey and its eastern Mediterranean neighbors Greece and Cyprus over rights to look for energy resources in the region. Greek and Turkish warships have been patrolling waters in the region as Turkey continues to search for oil and gas in locations where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.

EU set to sanction Turkey

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot state were "aware of the games that are being played against them" in view of the US decision. 

Read more: EU threatens Turkey with sanctions over Mediterranean drilling

However, the US ambassador to Cyprus, Judith Garber, said that the decision was "not about Turkey." According to the diplomat, the move was aimed to ensure greater security in the region in the face of "malign actors."

She said the move would allow Cyprus to more effectively deal with challenges such as terrorism, weapons trafficking and maritime security. 

tj/dj (AP, AFP)