Los Angeles-based AHC Wants Cyprus Arms Embargo Lifted

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006 file photo, Greek Cypriot soldiers stand on Russian-made tanks during the annual Cyprus Independence Day military parade in the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

The American Hellenic Council of California (AHC) wants Congress to lift an arms embargo on Cyprus that has been in place since 1987, supporting a measure filed by US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) who has had long and close ties with the Greek and Cypriot-American communities.

He said lifting the ban would show the US supports Cyprus as a democracy and EU member and would serve US security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A joint report of the Department of Defence and the State Department in June 2016 said the arms embargo in Cyprus had “little impact” in the US national security goals and could drive Cyprus toward Russia, a worrying factor, he said.

“As someone who has always cooperated with the Greek and the Greek Cypriot community, I continue to be optimistic that a lasting solution will be reached one day which will bring true and lasting peace,” he said.

The Los Angeles-based AHC branch wants support for House Resolution 5508 to end the 31-year-old restriction on arms sales to the island, which has been divided since an unlawful invasion in 1974 saw Turkey seize and occupy the northern third, with complicit support from the US, which looked the other way.

“This restriction on the sale of military equipment to Cyprus severely undermines regional peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean by constraining Cyprus from protecting its territorial integrity and exclusive economic zone from an expansionist Turkey,” AHC said in a statement.

It urged the Greek-American community and other citizens to lobby lawmakers in Congress to end the embargo.

In April this year, Cyprus’ Defence Minister Savvas Angelides met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for European and NATO policy, Thomas Goffus and asked for the ban on the sale of US military material to Cyprus to be lifted.

That came as Turkish warships were positioned off the island’s coast in parts of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Turkey doesn’t recognize, trying to keep foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas in waters where they are licensed.

Despite the ban, the bulk of heavy weapons maintained by the Turkish occupying forces in the north are American-made, the Cyprus Mail said, allowing Turkey to skirt the embargo and have heavy weapons at hand.

Talks to reunify the island fell apart at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana in July, 2017 when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would never remove an army in the occupied territory and wanted the right to militarily intervene – invade – when he wanted.

After the 1974 invasion, Cyprus could not buy arms from the US or Europe although it is ow in the European Union that Turkey wants to join – while refusing to recognize the legitimate government and barring Cypriot ships and planes.

In the late 1980’s France agreed to sell Cyprus more modern equipment include tanks, anti-tank helicopters and self-propelled artillery but the island is at a serious disadvantage against the Turkish military.

In 2003, the US complained that Greece gave Cyprus two helicopter and four outdated guns but until questions were raised about Erdogan’s provocations in the Aegean – including sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters – was ready to sell F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.

The embargo was begun to encourage reunification efforts and avoid an arms race on the island but has utterly failed as Turkey has gotten around and put an army on the island, largely equipped with arms barred to the Cypriots on the other side.