NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Thursday he would push to end or extend the deadline on a legal clause that requires annual approval for the sale of American-made weapons to Cyprus.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez told a gathering of the Cypriot diaspora in the capital Nicosia that ending or extending that approval from year to year would allow ethnically divided Cyprus to have “capacity to long-term planning” for its internal defense.
“I think we need to continue to strengthen our military cooperation, as well as our intelligence sharing, which has been extraordinary,” Menendez said. “Cyprus’ geostrategic position and location constitutes an invaluable asset to our collective security.”
The United States imposed an arms embargo on Cyprus in 1987 to deter an arms race in the region, but lifted the embargo in 2020 amid improving relations with the island nation, while demanding a annual approval for new sales.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week approved exports, re-exports and transfers of US-made weapons to Cyprus for fiscal year 2024 after certifying that the eastern Mediterranean island nation met the “necessary conditions “.
These conditions include implementing anti-money laundering regulations and denying Russian military ships access to ports for refueling and maintenance.
Cyprus banned Russian warships from using its ports in early March 2022, after Moscow’s war against Ukraine began.
These conditions are enshrined in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that the US Congress passed in 2019. The law highlights US support for closer ties between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, based on recently discovered offshore gas deposits.
The 1987 embargo was intended to prevent a possible arms race from damaging peace talks with the Mediterranean island nation’s separatist Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the northern third of the island and maintains more than 35,000 soldiers there.
Barred from access to American weapons, Cyprus has in the past turned to Russia to obtain Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems.