The United States will lift a long-standing arms embargo on Cyprus in a move that has angered NATO ally Turkey.
"Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defense articles for fiscal year 2023," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday.
The U.S. embargo on Cyprus remained in place since 1987 as the island remained divided following a Turkish invasion that established a breakaway state. The embargo had forced Cyprus to increasingly turn to Russia for weaponry since it could not buy even defensive weaponry, such as night vision goggles, if they contained any American components.
In order to get the embargo lifted, Cyprus had to install several financial regulatory oversight reforms, such as denying Russian military vessels access to ports, and finally met conditions that the U.S. felt were sufficient to prove it a reliable trading partner.
Endy Zemenides, executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), noted that Cyprus had made the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) white list, meaning that Cyprus has fulfilled commitments to transparency and exchanges of information for tax purposes.
"This represents the last vestige of … Russification or increasing Russian influence in Cyprus about ten years ago when Cyprus went through its banking crisis," Zemenides explained to Fox News Digital. "People were saying, ‘hey, you know Russians are hiding money or laundering money in Cyprus,’ [and] Cyprus got very aggressive on money laundering, got very aggressive on banking transparency."
The U.S. had partially lifted the embargo in 2020 and allowed for Cyprus to buy non-lethal military goods, indicating that Cyprus was not far off from a total embargo lift.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the U.S. decision as a "landmark" announcement that brings him "great satisfaction."
"This is a landmark decision, reflecting the burgeoning strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of security," Anastasiades wrote on Twitter, going on to thank Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who worked with the country to make sure it met the standards as dictated by the East Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019.
But Turkey’s foreign ministry urged the U.S. to reconsider its decision, claiming that the lack of an embargo will lead to "an arms race" on the island that will harm peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean.
The ministry said the decision would "further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue."
Zemenides argued that any decision the U.S. takes at this point will only anger Turkey, but the U.S. now views the east Mediterranean region as strategically important.
"The eastern Mediterranean has become a key region for the United States: It's a key battleground both in the battle against Russia and has been since a red line was never enforced in Syria," Zemenides said. "[Russia] has increased its naval presence tenfold in the Mediterranean. Its base in Syria is ten times larger, literally since 2014, and if you look at Cyprus, Cyprus is a permanent aircraft carrier."
"The United States security relationship with Cyprus because of this arms embargo was just not serving U.S. national security interests in a region where Russia is picking up, where China has extended its belt and road initiative," he added. "Look at the shores right across from Cyprus: You have Hamas on those shores, you have Hezbollah on those shores, you have Islamic Jihad on our shores, and to not be able to have Cyprus as an asset because of this arms embargo was ridiculous."