The government on Wednesday welcomed the announcement by the US embassy in Nicosia of Washington’s intention to provide International Military Education and Training (IMET) to Cyprus’ National Guard.
Opposition Akel, however, swiftly condemned the move and warned of the US’ “dangerous geopolitical plans” in the region.
The US embassy said the IMET programme provides students from allied and friendly nations valuable training and education on US military practices and standards through professional and technical courses.
It added that the programme was a key component of US security assistance, promoting regional stability and defence capabilities through professional military education and training and that the training can start in 2021 “subject to Congressional appropriations and notification”.
Offering IMET to Cyprus is consistent with the State Department’s Eastern Mediterranean strategy and the policy intent of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, both of which aim to strengthen our security partnership with the Republic, the embassy added.
“The Republic of Cyprus is an important partner in the Eastern Mediterranean region. We look forward to continuing to deepen our bilateral relationship as we promote regional stability,” it said.
Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said he was briefed on Wednesday morning by US Ambassador to Nicosia, Judith Garber, on the issue.
“It is a positive move,” the minister told the Cyprus Mail, adding that it is part of the scope of US-Cyprus relations.
He added that it was up to the defence minister to decide whether to take up the US offer to train National Guard officers.
The US embassy said IMET serves as an effective means to strengthen military partnerships and international coalitions “that defend our national security interests”.
The defence ministry said on Wednesday minister Charalambos Petrides had a telephone conversation with Gerber, but it did not explicitly say if the offer would be accepted.
Petrides, it said, thanked the ambassador and said that this initiative was a step toward strengthening bilateral relations on security and defence matters between Cyprus and the US.
He also said that military training would provide significant experience and technical knowledge to the National Guard.
But main opposition Akel said the military training the US is willing to offer was “yet another step toward implementing the infamous Menendez-Rubio law”.
The party was referring to the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act which was introduced by US Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio and signed into law in December 2019.
It provides among other things for the lifting of the decades-long US arms embargo on Cyprus allowing it to purchase US-made military equipment and for US $2m in IMET assistance each for Cyprus and Greece.
The bill, however, also sets as terms that Cyprus needs to continue to cooperate with the US government in efforts to implement reforms on anti-money laundering regulations but also to take the steps to deny Russian military vessels access to the Republic’s ports for refuelling and servicing.
The reference to Russian vessels at the time was described by President Nicos Anastasiades as “unfortunate” and he added it greatly affected Cyprus’ independence and sovereignty.
Anastasiades had said that the facilities to any country were always granted for humanitarian reasons also pointing out that such conditions could not be set by the US, a country with which Cyprus was seeking to further strengthen its relations.
Akel on Wednesday asked whether Cyprus’ armed forces would now defend US interests and pointed out it had warned that this bill embroils Cyprus into the “dangerous geopolitical plans of the US on the eastern Mediterranean”.
First and foremost, it promotes the dissolution of Cyprus-Russia relations, the party said.
“The government will have to clarify whether it intends to proceed with this ‘cooperation’ and whether the Cypriot armed forces will now be defending American interests.”
A government source told the Cyprus Mail that it remains to be seen whether the IMET offer is accepted, what the US reaction will be and whether demands will be made as regards the bill’s other provisions.
The source added that the government makes its decisions based on what it deems is right and not on what other countries say.
Akel asked whether the “propaganda of illusions for the strong allies of the Anastasiades government that will shield Cyprus, and which never show up, start again?”
It also wanted to know exactly the ‘regional stability’ the US is promoting the Trump administration is fuelling tensions in the Middle East, violating international law and withdrawing from the international security system.
“Which are the ‘shared international challenges’ when the US, to ‘keep Turkey in the West’, covers up Turkish aggression and Erdogan’s blatant provocations against Cyprus and Greece?” the party asked.
Akel was referring to statements last week by Garber. During a ceremony celebrating American Independence Day, she said that the US’ and other countries’ relationship with Turkey was complicated, and that it was important to continue to engage with Ankara in a way that keeps Turkey anchored to the West.
Invited to say what the US is concretely doing to put pressure on Turkey to stop its actions in the region, the ambassador said that the security of the eastern Mediterranean was important to the US, adding that they approach the Eastern Mediterranean as a coherent strategic space.
On Turkey’s activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, she recalled that the US has been very clear in its support for the Republic of Cyprus to develop national resources in its EEZ.
The ambassador added that Cyprus and the US had really strengthened cooperation in the security area, that Cyprus has now a defence attaché in Washington, while the two countries already held a number of crisis response exercises.