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Approved US arms embargo bill asks Cyprus to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refuelling and servicing

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved bipartisan legislation authored by Democratic Ranking Member Bob Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Fl.) , which would update the United States’ strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean to meet new challenges and opportunities in that region.

Two amendments concerning Cyprus have been added, making approval of the bill conditional. The version of the bill approved by the Foreign Relations Committee asks the President of the United States to certify the appropriate congressional committees not less than annually that “(A) the Government of the Republic of Cyprus is continuing to cooperate with the United States Government in efforts to implement reforms on anti-money laundering regulations and financial regulatory oversight; and (B) the Government of the Republic of Cyprus has made and is continuing to take the steps necessary to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refuelling and servicing.”

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 prohibition on arms transfers to the Republic of Cyprus. Now discussion of the bill is moved the full Senate.

A similar bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Ted Deutch, David Cicilline and Gus Bilirakis.

“I am thrilled to see such strong bipartisan support for this important piece of legislation to chart a new path forward for the eastern Mediterranean,” said Menendez. “Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are key partners of the United States, and today’s vote confirms that we need a new strategy that reflects our mutual interests. The Eastern Mediterranean is a region of central importance to our country, and it must therefore figure more prominently in how we allocate diplomatic energy, engagement and resources. I look forward to working with my colleagues so that this important legislation is swiftly considered and approved by the full Senate.”

“This is an important step towards a comprehensive regional strategy for the U.S. in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC. “Positive regional trends – especially cooperation on energy and security – will be accelerated by this Act.  The leadership of Senators Menendez and Rubio and of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will make the region more stable and prosperous and will advance both American interests and values.”

Julie Fishman Rayman, Director of Political Outreach for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), explained why the AJC has made the Act a policy priority. “The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act will strengthen regional security, expand existing cooperation, and ensure American leadership. We thank Senators Menendez and Rubio for their vision which reflects the realities on the ground in the region and helps support vital American allies and partners.”

According to Tasos Zambas, Chairman of the Justice for Cyprus Committee for the Federation of Cypriot-American Associations, “the East Med Act is a huge leap forward in U.S. relations with both Greece and Cyprus.  It places Greece in the centre of a new American strategy for the Eastern Mediterranean, and it stops the treatment of Cyprus as merely a problem but positions it as a solution.  The Greek-American community thanked Senator Menendez for his decades of unparalleled leadership on these  issues and to Senator Rubio for championing this new Eastern Mediterranean strategy.”

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 Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the U.S., Israel, Greece, and Cyprus; authorise $3,000,000 in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance for Greece; authorize International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance for Greece and Cyprus from fiscal years 2020-2022; 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 U.S. law. It would also require the 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 second amendment increases the fund appropriated for Greece and Cyprus for International Military Education and Training (IMET). “There is authorised to be appropriated $1,300,000 for fiscal year 2020, $1,500,000 for fiscal year 2021, and $1,800,000 for fiscal year 2022 for International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance for Greece and $200,000 for fiscal year 2020, $500,000 for fiscal year 2021, and $750,000 for fiscal year 2022 for such assistance for the Republic of Cyprus.”

Finally, a technical amendment that creates a separate chapter for the Turkish violations of the Cypriot EEZ and the obligation of the Secretaries of State and Defence to submit reports to Congress, the bill puts more emphasis to Cyprus. The previous version had Greece and Cyprus together.


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