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Politics

US Arms Embargo Lift for Cyprus Seen Message to Turkey Over Greece

September 2, 2020

The timing of decision by the United States to partially end a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus was no accident, Greek officials were said to believe, likely directed as a shot at Turkey for moving an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, raising fears of a conflict.

While Cyprus will be able to buy non-lethal arms – it wasn't explained what they would be – and Turkey is drilling already in Cypriot waters, the move by the US was seen in Greece as a message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greece has been building an international alliance and partners interested in the potentially lucrative revenues if oil and gas is found in the East Mediterranean, isolating Turkey, which has responded with threats as well as offering dialogue.

US patience may be wearing thin with Erdogan, even though President Donald Trump considers him a friend, with tension accelerated after the Turkish leader converted the ancient church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque and planning to reopen the ghost town of Famagusta on Cyprus.

The resort is on the northern third occupied by Turkey since an unlawful 1974 invasion, with a 35,000-strong army there and Erdogan being emboldened by only soft European Union sanctions.

The embargo lift, said Kathimerini, showed that the US “is moving to strengthen rather than undermine stability in the region,” the American edict always being it has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

The lifting of the embargo will be valid for one year and can be renewed on an annual basis but no details were provided on what Cyprus could purchase and if at some point it will include the arms it wants.

US officials reportedly said that the decision is not related to recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean but didn't explain the timing or whether it was just a coincidence.

Turkey made its move toward Greece's Continental Shelf under a maritime deal signed with Libya dividing the seas between them and plans to also drill off Crete, where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay.

No other country recognizes that and Greece countered with a similar agreement with Egypt, demarcating seas boundaries where drilling could be conducted, adding to its other energy partners in the region.

After the ratification of the Greek-Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zone agreement, Greece expects the United Nations will accept it and post maps delineating the coverage area that overlaps Turkey's claims.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will be in New York on Sept. 4, where he will meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to brief him about Greece’s agreements with Italy and Egypt, the paper said.

Erdogan described Greece as “bait” that is being used by other countries. “The greatest injustice is done by those who tried to fulfill their ambitions by propping up a state that exists by hiding behind others. We’re tired of the shadow play. It’s comical to use a country that can’t even help itself to bait a regional and global power like Turkey,” Erdogan said.

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis will announce plans Sept. 12-13 to build the country's defenses.

Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis said that, “There will be an upgrade in the number and operational capacity of the personnel of the armed forces.”

“We have a menu of options regarding the upgrade of the existing weapons systems but also the purchase of new ones, within the budgetary space that we will have,” he also said.

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