With Turkey stepping up aggressive talk in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and trying to keep foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez came to the divided island and said it’s set “ to find a whole new day in its relationship with the United States and with the West,” and closer relations.
The New Jersey Democrat wasn’t on an official visit but met with President Nikos Anastasiades a week after introducing in Congress a bipartisan bill seeking to lift the US arms embargo on Cyprus, which has been in place since 1987.
The discussion with Anastasiades was “excellent, extensive and very positive,” Menendez said, according to Cypriot media, with only broadstrokes outlines revealed and no specifics about the embargo or Turkey wanting to send ships into the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conduct its own energy research operations.
“We talked about many important subjects; the Eastern Mediterranean’s security strategy and energy strategy, Cyprus’ continuous engagement with the United States, questions of our foreign policy in the region, economic questions, the changing dynamics of Cyprus in its banking zone,” the US Senator was reported as saying.
The arms embargo lift bill was the product of Menendez, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and is called the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019.
It would allow the US to fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus through energy and defense cooperation initiatives – including by lifting the embargo on arms transfers to Cyprus.
The legitimate government, a member of the European Union that Turkey wants to join – while barring Cypriot ships and planes and occupying the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion – is outgunned by Turkey, which keeps a 35,000-strong army on the island and has no restriction on buying US arms, and as it’s trying to purchase American-made F-35 fighter jets.
With the US firm ExxonMobil reporting a major gas field off the coast, energy has become a new geo-political catalyst in the region and made Cyprus a more critical strategic destination for governments who want to increase influence.
With US relations with Turkey getting worse, despite the US having a major air wing at the Incirlik air base in Turkey, Cyprus has been eager to get the arms embargo lifted and get the international community on its side.
“The United States has significant national security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, bolstered by strong and expanding relationships with Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. The cooperation in energy security among these countries in recent years has paved the way for cooperation on a broad, regional security, economic, and energy agenda,” also said Menendez of the pact.
“The time has come for the US to deepen this cooperation and build on the constructive progress made by our allies to help ensure a secure Eastern Mediterranean. This legislation seeks to strengthen our bonds of friendship through joint efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and security for our nations.”