Time for U.S. to end Cyprus embargo - U.S. officials

The United States should end its unjust three-decade arms embargo on Cyprus, a move that is in U.S. security interests, Gus Bilirakis, U.S. Congressman and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, and Nick Larigakis, president of the American Hellenic Institute wrote in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini. 

In 1987, the U.S. State Department put Cyprus on a list of countries to which defence sales were prohibited, without any clear reason. 

“It appears to have been imposed in the erroneous belief that it would somehow encourage Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to resolve the nearly 45-year division of the territory,” Bilirakis and Larigakis said.

In December, Congress members, including Bilirakis, sent a letter to the State Department urging it to lift the embargo, which they said was unwarranted. The State Department replied that an arms sales prohibition applies whenever the export of such materials would not further world peace or U.S. security, adding that Washington was exploring a greater security alliance with Cyprus. 

“The State Department’s response is at odds with itself,” said Bilirakis and Larigakis. “Either Cyprus is a threat to peace, stability and U.S. security interests or it is a reliable ally which promotes regional stability and security. It cannot be both.”

Since Turkey invaded in 1974, dividing the island between the north, recognised only by Ankara, and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south, thousands of ethnic Greek former residents of northern Cyprus have been exiled from their homes. This year, Ankara has begun exploratory offshore drilling for natural gas in what the Cyprus government says is its exclusive economic zone, leading the EU to warn of sanctions. 

“It is these unlawful acts, as well as the occupation, which impede any resumption of settlement negotiations,” said Bilirakis and Larigakis.

Now, a growing number of U.S. officials are calling for an end to the embargo. In April, Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez introduced a bill to enhance security cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean that included ending the arms embargo. 

“By lifting the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus and extending necessary foreign military assistance to Greece, this legislation brings forth a comprehensive approach to the stability of key regional partners,” said Rubio.

In May, three Congressmen, including Bilirakis, introduced a bipartisan bill that supports partnership in the eastern Mediterranean and also calls for an end to the arms embargo on Cyprus.

“It is time to lift the arms prohibition on Cyprus. It is as anachronistic as Turkey’s perspective on the Cyprus issue,” said Bilirakis and Larigakis. “It is in the best interests of the United States for Cyprus to look to the United States, and not any other nation, to procure its defence articles.”