Cyprus welcomes 'landmark' US lifting of arms embargo

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said he welcomed the announcement "with great satisfaction". PHOTO: REUTERS

NICOSIA - Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades on Saturday welcomed a "landmark" decision by Washington to fully lift a decades-old arms embargo, conditional on Nicosia continuing to block Russian warships from its ports.

The United States imposed the arms embargo on the whole of Cyprus in 1987 in the hope it could encourage its reunification.

The Mediterranean island has been divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after a Turkish invasion launched in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lifted defence trade restrictions to Cyprus, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Mr Anastasiades said it was "with great satisfaction" that he welcomed the announcement "on the complete lifting of the US arms embargo" on his country, the most easterly member of the European Union.

"This is a landmark decision, reflecting the burgeoning strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of security," he added.

Critics said the embargo was counterproductive by forcing Cyprus to seek other partners while Turkey, a Nato member, has stationed forces in northern Cyprus since its invasion in 1974.

In December 2019, US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo to allow "non-lethal" military hardware to be exported.

US officials had been concerned that the ban brought Cyprus closer to Russia, with the island in 2015 signing off on an access deal to its ports.

"Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles," Mr Price said on Friday.

The decision was subject to an annual review, he added, conditional on Cyprus "continuing to cooperate" with Washington, including on "continuing to take the steps necessary to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refuelling and servicing." Negotiations aimed at solving the Cyprus problem have repeatedly failed.

The last round, held in Switzerland in 2017, had aimed to secure the island's reunification in a federation. AFP

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