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Bipartisan bill to lift US arms embargo on Cyprus introduced in Senate

A bipartisan bill seeking to lift the US arms embargo on Cyprus, which has been in place since 1987, was introduced by Democrat Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

In an announcement, the two Senators say that “The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019” would “lift the prohibition on arms sales to the Republic of Cyprus, authorise the establishment of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Centre to facilitate energy cooperation between the US, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.

It would also authorise $3,000,000 in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance for Greece,  $2,000,000 for International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance for Greece and $2,000,000 for Cyprus.

The bill also seeks to impede the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey, as long as Turkey continues with plans to purchase the S-400 air defence system from the Russian Federation, a purchase that would be sanctionable under US law.

It would also require the US administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region.

“The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 would allow the US to fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus through energy and defence cooperation initiatives – including by lifting the embargo on arms transfers to the Republic of Cyprus,” the press release said.

The legislation, it adds, “also seeks to update US strategy in recognition of consequential changes in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the recent discovery of large natural gas fields, and a deterioration of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and our regional partners.”

“The time has come for the US to deepen this cooperation and build on the constructive progress made by our allies to help ensure a secure Eastern Mediterranean,” Menendez said, adding: “This legislation seeks to strengthen our bonds of friendship through joint efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and security for our nations.”

Rubio noted that “by lifting the US 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.”

The bill notes that the direct sale or transfer of arms by the US to the Republic of Cyprus would advance Washington’s security interests in Europe by helping to reduce the dependence of the government of Cyprus on other countries for defence-related materiel, including countries that pose challenges to United States interests around the world.”

At the same time it was in the interests of the US to continue supporting UN-facilitated efforts toward a comprehensive solution to the division of Cyprus; and for the Republic of Cyprus to join Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme.

It also provides that “not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on Russian Federation malign influence in Cyprus, Greece, and Israel since January 1, 2017.”

It further stipulates that not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of the Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defence and the Secretary of Energy, shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report listing incidents where the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus or the sovereign territory of Greece in the Aegean Sea have been violated.”

The bill provides that “no F–35 aircraft purchased by Turkey may be exported, re-exported, or transferred to the Government of Turkey.”

“The restrictions shall remain in effect until “the Government of Turkey formally renounces and rejects the purchase of S–400 anti-aircraft system, or any similar system, from the Russian Federation; and no elements of the S–400 or similar system are located within the territory of Turkey,” it reads.

Among others the bill says that the Secretary of Energy “may establish a joint United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Centre in the United States leveraging the experience, knowledge, and expertise of institutions of higher education and entities in the private sector, among others, in offshore energy development to further dialogue and collaboration to develop more robust academic cooperation in energy innovation technology and engineering, water science, technology transfer, and analysis of emerging geopolitical implications, which include opportunities as well as crises and threats from foreign natural resource and energy acquisitions.”

A copy of the bill can be found here.

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