Washington decides to lift 33-year-old arms embargo on Cyprus amid intense Greek-Turkish crisis

The US has decided to remove restrictions on non-lethal arms sales to Cyprus following a decades-long ban, sparking an angry reaction from Ankara at a time when Turkey is engaged in a territorial dispute with Greece.

The US State Secretary Mike Pompeo announced the decision in a phone call with the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. Washington is about to waive restrictions on “export, re-export, retransfer, and temporary import of non-lethal defense articles and defense services” imposed against Cyprus, albeit only for one fiscal year starting October, the State Department said in a statement.

Pompeo himself turned to Twitter to praise Cyprus as America’s “key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean” and hail deepening “security cooperation” between the two nations. 

The move marks an about-turn in US policy towards arms sales to the de-facto divided island. Cyprus was divided back in 1974 following a Turkish invasion that, in turn, followed a Greek-inspired coup. The north-eastern part of the island has since been controlled by a breakaway entity calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized by none but Ankara.

In 1987, 13 years after the de-facto partition of the island, the US imposed its embargo to stimulate re-unification efforts and help avoid an arms race on the island. Yet, now, the situation could potentially spiral out of control.

The announcement already angered Ankara, which accused Washington of “disregarding the equality and balance” and called on its NATO ally to review it. Turkey also warned it would take “the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people,” should the US not reverse its decision.

The developments come as tensions in the region are already running high. Turkey has launched a natural resource exploration mission in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea contested by Greece, angering Athens. A Turkish vessel is currently conducting a survey precisely between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

Greece condemned the Turkish actions while receiving some support from France, which even sent a military flotilla to the region. Ankara, meanwhile, launched live-fire drills between the Turkish coast and Cyprus scheduled to run between August 29 and September 11.

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