U.S. Senator hails East Med Act as ‘new day’ in relations with Greece

One of the U.S. senators who drafted a spending package that lifts the arms embargo on Cyprus and aims to develop links with Greece has hailed its approval by congress as a “new day in Greek-American relations,” Kathimerini reported on Friday.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act co-authored by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez was approved this week as tensions continue to mount over Turkey’s claim to maritime jurisdictions that overlap with those of Greece and Cyprus.

“I have said for a while now that I felt that we were in a moment in which the stars were aligned. I think there is a growing recognition of the importance of Greece and Cyprus along with Israel as a new strategy for the Eastern Mediterranean,” Menendez said about the bill, which is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.

“It speaks volumes of the importance of Greece and Cyprus along with Israel in the new strategy that we can include the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act of 2019 by agreement in the appropriations bill that will become law,” he said.

If the bill becomes law, it will lift an arms embargo on Cyprus that has been in place since 1987, when it was imposed to prevent an arms race on the divided island and to encourage its reunification.

Cyprus has been partitioned into a mainly Greek republic that is widely recognised internationally and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, since Turkey invaded the island in 1974 in response to a coup by Greek nationalists that aimed to unify the island with mainland Greece.

Tensions have been mounting around Cyprus in recent years as Turkey sent its drillships and naval vessels to search for hydrocarbons in areas around the island, also blocking international companies from drilling in areas claimed by the Greek Cypriot administration.

The dispute has escalated since November, when Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya that demarcated a large swathe of the eastern Mediterranean as under Turkish jurisdiction, including areas close to Cyprus and Greek islands.

As well as ending the arms embargo, the East Med Act foresees the establishment of an institution to encourage energy cooperation between the United States, Israel, Greece and Cyprus.

It will also increase financial assistance and military training for Greece, including Cyprus in the military education programme for the first time, and will require the U.S. administration to submit a security and energy cooperation strategy in the eastern Mediterranean to Congress, as well as reports on “malign activities” by Russia and other countries in the region,” Kathimerini said.