Cyprus on Saturday hailed the full lifting of a U.S. arms embargo on the ethnically divided island nation as a milestone reaffirming increasingly tighter bilateral bonds that serve to bolster stability in the turbulent east Mediterranean region.
President Nicos Anastasiades tweeted his gratitude to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, for helping to lift the embargo.
Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the northern third of Cyprus, condemned the decision. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry urged the U.S. to reconsider, warning that the move would harm efforts for a Cyprus peace deal, lead to an arms race on the island and undermine regional stability.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in in a statement that Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined Cyprus met the conditions to allow for “exports, re-exports and transfers of defense articles … for the fiscal year 2023.”
The U.S. will assess annually whether Cyprus complies with conditions for the embargo lift, including implementing anti-money laundering regulations and denying Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and servicing.
Cyprus barred Russian warships from using its ports in early March following the invasion of Ukraine.
The conditions are enshrined in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that the U.S. Congress passed in 2019. The law underscores U.S. support for closer ties among Greece, Cyprus and Israel based on recently discovered offshore gas deposits.
The U.S. enacted the embargo in 1987 to prevent a potential arms race from harming peace talks with the Mediterranean island nation’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Barred access to U.S. weapons, Cyprus turned to Russia to procure Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems.