US Senator Robert Menendez on Tuesday spoke of a new era in Cyprus-US relations after a meeting at the presidential palace in Nicosia with President Nicos Anastasiades, a week after announcing that a bipartisan bill seeking to lift the US arms embargo on Cyprus, which has been in place since 1987, had been tabled in Washington.
After the meeting, Menendez told reporters had “an excellent meeting” with Anastasiades, and that he himself has had a long relationship with Cyprus.
“We talked about many important subjects, Easter Mediterranean’s security strategy, energy strategy, Cyprus’ continuous engagement with the United States, questions of our foreign policy in the region, economic questions, the changing dynamics of Cyprus in its banking zone,” Menendez said.
He added that they also had “a very extensive, very positive discussion and I look forward to continue deepening the relation between the United States and Cyprus”.
“I think there is a great moment for Cyprus to find a whole new day in its relationship not only with the United States but with the West.”
The bipartisan bill was introduced by Democrat 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 said what has been termed 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 legislation 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.”
Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the issue was not related with any plans to buy American military hardware but the arms embargo created a dissonance in strategic relations between Nicosia and Washington.
It was also important, he added that the bill was tabled by both major political parties in the US, something that “improves the possibilities and shows that this is a national issue for Cyprus and the United States”.
Anastasiades and Menendez had reviewed the strategic relationship and partnerships developed by Cyprus, as a state that guarantees stability and security in the region with neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and especially Israel and its role as an extension of the EU to the Eastern Mediterranean.
“All this also serves the geostrategic interest of the US, especially since it is now being strengthened with the specific energy interests of US companies operating in Cyprus,” he said.
Prodromou also said Anastasiades had raised the issue of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus Unficyp, and had pointed that any changes to the force’s mandate posed a risk to stability on the island.
There have been fears of drastic changes to Unficyp’s role since the US decided to review its position vis-à-vis UN peacekeeping and suggested linking the continued presence of missions to political progress in varying disputes. Cyprus has the longest-serving UN force in the world, having a presence on the island since 1964.
Prodromou also said that as regards the Cyprus issue, Anastasiades had asked Menendez for help in putting pressure on Turkey “to change its attitude and cooperate in the attempt to resume negotiations”.
“It was a very good meeting, and through senator Menendez, who is a very good friend of Cyprus we expect that he will continue, not only at the level of the US government, but also in the parliamentary bodies, especially in the Senate, the good work done for Cyprus – US relations,” Prodromou said.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot press reported on Tuesday that the lifting of the US arms embargo on Cyprus would trigger an armaments race in the Eastern Mediterranean and would be tantamount to adding fuel to the fire, the Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign ministry’s said.
In an announcement, it said the statements made by the US Senators who had prepared the bill, “and by the Greek Cypriot leadership” was aggressive and threatened peace and stability on the island.
“As we continuously stress, the climate of stability and peace in the area and in our island is very important for the Turkish Cypriot side and we are ready to promote any kind of steps for cooperation to be taken in this direction,” said the statement.
It expressed the hope that the draft would be rejected in the relevant congressional committees as had happened with other similar drafts, and that the US Congress would instead call on the sides concerned to take steps which would promote regional cooperation.