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US Senate lifts arms restrictions against Cyprus in second bill (Updated)

The US Senate building in Washington

The US Senate voted on Thursday, in a second piece of legislation, to lift decades-old arms restrictions on Cyprus but requires that the country continue the reforms on anti-money laundering regulations and deny access to its ports to Russian military vessels.

The measures, which appear to mirror those in a new law up for discussion at the Senate, the East-Med Act bill, were passed on Thursday in a law titled the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) for the 2020 draft budget.

The amendment to the NDAA was introduced by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, one of the authors of the East Med Act, which passed the Senate foreign affairs committee last Tuesday, and which President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday described as unfortunate and an imposition on the island’s sovereignty. The East Med Act has not yet been approved by the Senate.

Cyprus has a 2015 agreement with Russia for use of port facilities and the East Med Act rules out refueling or support for Russian military ships.

The NDAA, however, contains a caveat allowing the President of the US to waive the requirements on Cyprus for one economic year, if it’s to the interest of the US to do so. It is not clear whether this will also be included in the East Med Act during approval by the Senate.

Under the NDAA, the lifting of the embargo involves only US military articles and military services requested by the government of Cyprus and not transfers on Cypriot soil of American made equipment for the Turkish army, the “Turkish Cypriot Forces” or Greek military contingent Eldyk, according to CNA. Legislation ‘S 1790’ also determines that by obtaining S-400 Russian missiles Turkey will not be allowed to receive F-35 fighters or participate in the F-35 production program.

In a statement following the adoption of the NDAA, Menendez said that the Senate has “shown our partners in Cyprus and around the world that the United States is committed to meeting the eastern Mediterranean’s challenges and opportunities.”
“With Cyprus seeking to deepen its strategic partnership with the United States, it is in our national security and economic interest to lift this outdated decades-long arms restrictions that are no longer helping US security objectives,” Menendez said.  He said he was looking forward to continuing to work with his colleagues to ensure they usher “a new era for an Eastern Mediterranean architecture rooted in shared security and prosperity.”

Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides, talking about the East Med Act on Friday morning said the Russian factor was just a reference by the authors of the bill and that Anastasiades would have the opportunity to discuss them with a  number of American MPs on Saturday who will be in Cyprus as part of their visit in the region.

He said that the bill will have to be approved both by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Then it will be sent to the US President who will have to approve it, he said.

“The president (Anastasiades) will have the opportunity to discuss all these references in the bills and express the Republic of Cyprus’ positions,” Christodoulides said.

As regards the lifting of the arms embargo, Christodoulides said that it was more of a symbolic move  for the Republic of Cyprus taking into consideration “which countries are in the US embargo regime.”

“Such a decision taken many years ago does not go hand in hand with the level of our relations,” he said.  Christodoulides said that there was no issue of choosing between Russia and the US, adding that the external orientation of Cyprus was the EU.

 

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