Turkey Warns US Lift of Cyprus Arms Embargo Will Hike Tension

December 18, 2019

NICOSIA – With the US Congress lifting a 32-year-old arms embargo keeping Cyprus – but not Turkey – from getting weapons, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said that could create a showdown on the island where tension has risen over Turkey’s drilling for energy offshore.

Turkey said letting Cyprus buy arms to protect itself would undercut long-failed efforts to reunify the island that was split when Turkey unlawfully invaded in 1974, seizing and still occupying the northern third and keeping a 35,000-strong army there.

US lawmakers voted to end the embargo that was implemented in 1987 to prevent an arms buildup although Turkey was still allowed to purchase weapons that could be transported to its self-declared republic on the island no other country in the world recognizes.

The US decision “will have no outcome other than hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation,” the Turkish foreign ministry said without mentioning Turkey has ramped up tension with its drilling.

The bill “repeals existing restrictions on the United States from transferring and exporting weapons, and defense articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus,” the Cyprus News Agency reported earlier, after it had been approved by the Senate in the summer.

Turkey wanted American lawmakers to drop a provision in the annual defense authorization bill that would lift the United States’ three-decade arms embargo on Cyprus, reported Al-Monitor at the time.

“The longstanding US policy has purposefully not taken sides among peoples of the island or guarantor states to avoid promoting an arms race that might lead to an undesired or unintended consequences,” Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic wrote in a pair of identical letters to the Chairman and top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee: Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Sen. Bob Menendez, from New Jersey, close to the Greek-American and Cypriot-American communities, had initially pushed for the arms embargo to end as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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