With the US Congress considering further sanctions against Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria to get at the Kurds, American allies – allowed by President Donald Trump when he removed American troops working with them against ISIS – Turkish lobbyists in Washington are trying to prevent the lifting of an arms embargo for Cyprus.
Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion, keeps a 35,000-strong standing army there and has no arms restrictions as does the legitimate government that is a member of the European Union.
Turkey wants 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.
“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.
Kilic’s September letters urge Smith and Thornberry to drop the Cyprus language from the defense bill. The letters were distributed by Turkish lobbying firms Venable and Capitol Counsel.
The Senate version of the bill, which passed 86-8 in June, originally contained the provision. The language became part of the House defense bill after an amendment introduced by Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., passed 252-173 in July.
“The Republic of Cyprus has long been a key ally in the fight against terrorism and emerging threats in Europe, but for more than 25 years, this embargo has not reflected the strength and importance of that relationship,” Cicilline said after the House adapted his amendment.
Sen. Bob Menendez, from New Jersey, close to the Greek-American and Cypriot-American communities, initially pushed for the arms embargo to end as the the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
With Turkey unlawfully drilling for energy in Cypriot sovereign waters, the legitimate government there asked for the United Nations to intervene but was ignored as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proved unstoppable.
Lobbying disclosure firms reviewed by Al-Monitor reveal that the law firm DLA Piper met with Thornberry and Bilirakis on behalf of Greece in late 2018 as well as staffers for Cicilline and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year.
The administration of the occupied territory of Cyprus, which only Turkey in the world recognizes, has its own lobbyist, Prime Policy Group, which the news site said had representatives meet with staffers for Menendez and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho earlier.
In March, after meeting Cyprus’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides who was in Washington, D.C., Menendez said that, “We are getting ever closer” to ending an arms embargo preventing the purchase of weapons.
In statement after a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he is a ranking member, Menendez also said that “We are really enthused about the role Cyprus is continuously taking in exercising leadership in the region,” reported Kathimerini.
“I have always had a view of lifting the arms embargo. I think we are getting ever closer and to the credit of the Cypriot government they have taken a series of actions that I think makes that move possible,” he said.
That’s been said before without result. In January, Christodoulides said the embargo was going to be lifted because the US saw the “added value” of allowing Cyprus to acquire military equipment that would help enhance its capabilities to boost regional security.
The embargo was imposed in 1987 with the aim of preventing an arms buildup that would hamper diplomatic efforts to reunify divided Cyprus. The island was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Christodoulides said the process to lift the embargo has been set in motion in the U.S. Congress, reflecting a “positive shift” in that Washington no longer views Cyprus solely as an unsettled conflict of ethnic division.
“This is proof, if you like, of the recognition by the U.S. administration of the positive role that Cyprus plays as a pillar of stability and security in the broader region,” Christodoulides said then without that hope being realized as yet.