The United States said Cyprus is a good friend, just not good enough for an arms embargo to be lifted on the government while a Turkish army on the occupied northern side can resupply as it wants and has access to American-made weaponry.
That could change, said American officials, if Cyprus accedes to a quid pro quo and prohibits Russian Navy ships from making ports of call on the island whose banking secrecy depends in part on deposits from Russian oligarchs.
Responding to a letter by the President of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) Nick Larigakis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Palmer also indicated that Cyprus must do more to halt money laundering.
That was an indirect reference to the island's reputation for being a notorious tax haven, including from Russia's wealthy, and as it has sold Golden Visas that include residency permits and European Union passports allowing unrestricted travel.
Both issues were a prerequisite for lifting the 33-year old arms embargo, according to laws signed in December, 2019 by US President Donald Trump who also wanted Turkey to be allowed to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets as it has stepped up provocations in the East Mediterranean, including drilling for energy off Cyprus.
Larigakis sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking the US administration to remove the arms prohibition on Cyprus and to take the island's government – a member of the European Union – off a list of countries to which arms sales are prohibited under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Palmer said that the US welcomed Cyprus’ “anti-money laundering measures, which showed important progress in strengthening AML (anti-money laundering])efforts and combatting illicit financial flows,” without mentioning EU criticism of the program.
He also said that, “the United States continues to urge a halt in Russia’s regular navy port calls to the ROC. There is no doubt these vessels contribute to destabilising actions in Syria,” reported The Cyprus Mail.
Larigakis welcomed the letter’s reaffirmation of the United States’ view of Cyprus as a “valued partner and friend in the Eastern Mediterranean” and assessment that US cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus is at a “historic high.”
But he said he was disappointed there weren't any real answers. “The letter does not address the issue of removing the Republic of Cyprus from the ITAR list and did not acknowledge AHI’s points related to the issue of access of Russian military vessels to Cypriot ports,” Larigakis said.
He said he's not giving up the fight though.
“AHI will continue to work with the State Department to reach an understanding that it is in US interests to remove the Republic of Cyprus from the ITAR list altogether, especially if the United States values Cyprus as a partner and cooperation is at a historic high,” Larigakis said.
The embargo was imposed in 1987 with an aim to prevent an arms race and encourage a peaceful settlement but Turkey has been allowed to equip a 30,000-strong army on the island's still occupied northern third seized in an unlawful 1974 invasion.