Turkey is furious with Washington after lifting the arms embargo on Cyprus and selling it military equipment

The United States announced Tuesday that it had partially lifted its one-year ban on selling “non-lethal” military equipment to Cyprus, which angered Ankara.

The US State Department said in a statement that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “informed” the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, “of his decision to lift restrictions on the export, re-export and re-transfer of non-lethal defense materials and defense services”.

He explained that the decision to lift the restrictions “is temporary for the 2021 fiscal year”.

The US Congress voted on a text in this direction last December.

The United States imposed the ban in 1987 to encourage reunification of the island northern Turkey has occupied since its invasion in 1974.

However, this procedure turned out to be ineffective, and rather encouraged the Cypriot government to resort to other partners without ending the island’s division.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez praised the “recognition of the importance” of the relationship with Cyprus “as a reliable strategic partner”. 

He said in a statement that “it is in our interest to lift these ancient restrictions on weapons that have been in place for decades, and to deepen our relationship with security”.

However, the Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the partial lifting of the embargo and called on Washington to “backtrack” on this decision, which “will have negative repercussions on efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus issue”.

In a statement, the ministry warned that “if this does not happen, Turkey will take… measures of reciprocity necessary to ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriots”.

For his part, Pompeo reiterated US support for a “comprehensive solution to reunify the island within a federation”.

In July, the US Secretary of State announced strengthening defense cooperation with Cyprus in the form of funding for military training.

The US announcement comes at a time of escalating disputes in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece, with increasing demonstrations of power between the competitors and incidents that have deepened European concerns.

For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Greece and Turkey on Wednesday to “reduce tension” to stop the escalation in the eastern Mediterranean around the disputed maritime borders and gas fields.

“We urge everyone to step back to reduce tension and start diplomatic talks on the conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean, security disputes, disputes over energy resources and maritime disputes,” Pompeo said at a press conference.

The region is witnessing an escalation of tension between Ankara and Athens, due to mutual displays of force and events that increased European fears. 

The dispute between the two countries mainly revolves around the sharing of gas reserves that have been discovered in recent years.

In this context, Pompeo announced Tuesday that the United States has partially lifted the ban imposed for more than thirty years on the sale of “non-lethal” military equipment to Cyprus, which angered Ankara.

On Wednesday, the Cypriot government welcomed this step, which reflects a “recognition” of the island’s role and the “importance” of its relations with the United States.

Pompeo said Wednesday, “We know that this decision was announced at a time of escalation in tension in the eastern Mediterranean, but we were convinced that it was necessary to do so, and decided to move forward”.

He indicated that President Donald Trump had held talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“They should sit together and start talks about all of that, and find diplomatic solutions,” he said, adding, “It is pointless to increase military tension in the regions, as that only brings negative things”.