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US to end arms embargo on Southern Cyprus, as Turkey continues drilling for oil

July 15, 2019 at 3:31 pm

An aerial photo shows Turkish drill ship continuing offshore drilling operations in the Mediterranean Sea on 11 July 2019 [Turkish National Defence Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

The US House of Representatives has accepted an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act which would end the 32-year arms embargo imposed on Southern Cyprus.

Since 1987, the embargo has been in effect in order to “prevent the accumulation of arms that would hamper diplomatic efforts to unite the island again,” and has until now been a tool to ensure the maintenance of the peace between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Southern Cyprus. Relations between the US and Southern Cyprus were also rocked by the latter’s purchase of the S-300 air defence system from Russia in 1997.

The amendment was put forward by Congressman David Cicilline who stated that the “outdated” embargo does not reflect the importance and strength of US relations with Southern Cyprus which he called a “key ally in the fight against terrorism and emerging threats in Europe.”

It was also prepared by Senator Bob Menendez, who previously presented a bill to the Senate which would cancel the delivery of the F-35 fighter jets to Turkey over the ongoing dispute of its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system. He also visited the Cypriot capital Nicosia in April for a meeting with President Nikos Anastasiadis, in which he announced his support for Southern Cyprus, revealing the anti-Turkish slant of the amendment and those involved in it.

READ: Turkish Cypriots propose gas cooperation after tensions rise

Not only does the amendment lift the embargo and allow the sale of arms to the state of Southern Cyprus, it also includes the guarantee of $2 million worth of military training provided by the US. Another term in the amendment is that Southern Cyprus will not let Russian warships use its ports if it purchases arms from the US.

The amendment was won by a vote of 252 over 173, ending the decades-long embargo and tipping the balance in the dispute between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island, and comes amid the ongoing competition over the eastern Mediterranean’s energy resources. In June, Southern Cyprus, Greece and Israel struck a deal in which the three states are to build a pipeline harnessing the reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of the island. This EastMed pipeline, which is estimated to produce a profit of $9 billion over 18 years of the reserve’s exploitation, will supply gas from the eastern Mediterranean region all the way to countries in Europe.

Turkey has expressed its displeasure at being excluded from such a deal and has sent its own drilling vessels to the waters off the eastern shores of Cyprus to conduct the exploration of further reserves of natural gas. It will not stop its drilling, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu yesterday, until Southern Cyprus accepts a proposal to cooperate in the sharing of the natural gas reserves.

READ: Greece, Cyprus pressure EU to act over Turkey gas drilling as Ankara digs in