U.S. to partially lift arms embargo on Cyprus

(Updated with Turkish Foreign Ministry statement in the third, fourth paragraphs)

The United States has decided to lift the U.S. embargo on non-lethal defence articles in Cyprus, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said on Tuesday.

The decision was announced over a call by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Anastasiades, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.

The lifting of the 33-year ban will be effective for a year and could be extended after that, it said, citing U.S. sources.

Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued later on Tuesday, said lifting the arms embargo on Cyprus would have negative impact on the efforts to solve the issues of the island.

"This step does not comply with the spirit of the alliance" between Turkey and Washington, the statement said. Ankara also called on Washington to reassess the decision.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Since then, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has controlled the southern two-thirds of the island, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Turkey, the northern third.

Washington imposed an embargo on the whole of the divided island in 1987 with the goal of stopping an arms race and help creating a peaceful settlement between the Greek majority and Turkish minority. 

The statement from the Foreign Ministry also said Turkey would take decisive and reciprocal steps as a guarantor country to provide security to Cypriot Turks unless the decision to lift the arms embargo on Cyrus is changed.

U.S. Congress ended the arms embargo on Cyprus in late 2019, in a blow to Turkey. The effort was led at the U.S. Senate by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio .

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday hailed the move as a step toward "deepening security cooperation'' with "key partner'' Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"We will waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal defense articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus for the coming fiscal year,'' Pompeo said in a Twitter post.


The news on the lifting of the embargo on non-lethal defence articles first tweeted by Greek reporters based in Washington, D.C., after a press briefing conducted with Greek journalists in Washington with the U.S. officials. 

"They did not make a clear distinction between lethal and non-lethal systems," Matthew Palmer of the US State Department reportedly said that each Cypriot request for the supply of American systems will be reviewed separately.