President Anastasiades must have felt a little embarrassed by the specifics of the lifting of the US arms embargo against Cyprus which was explained to him in a telephone conversation by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday night.
It is a partial lifting of the embargo for one year – with the possibility of a renewal – and applies to “non-lethal” defence items. In other words, the embargo will be lifted but remain in place in the case of lethal defence articles such as guns, missiles, tanks etc.
After all the gloating by the government, which presented the lifting of the embargo as a big success of its policy, it turns out that it was nothing of the sort. Was it not aware of what the US administration had in mind when it spoke about ending the embargo that had been in place since 1987? The former defence minister, Savvas Angelides had even spoken about the purchase of the US defence equipment, something that for the Americans was not on the cards.
Anastasiades tried to put a positive spin on the matter, saying on Twitter: “I welcome the lifting of the US arms embargo on non-lethal defence articles. A positive development which reinforces further the bilateral security relationship.” This is one way of looking at it, even though it is a long way off from what the government was saying a year ago. It is possible Turkey had protested to the US about the planned lifting, forcing a change of plan.
US officials were in fact at pains to reassure Ankara the decision was not aimed at Turkey. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defence Trade, Mike Miller, said on Tuesday, “we do not want to see an arms race on the island nor a fundamental change in the balance of power.” US ambassador to Cyprus Judith Garber, told a news conference on Wednesday that the decision was not taken “in response to the most recent developments in the region”, but was a “consequence of a growing security partnership with Cyprus”.
This temporary partial lifting of the embargo also comes with strings attached. Apart from the legitimate request by US for Cyprus to continue its effort to implement strong anti-money laundering regulations, Garber said Cyprus had to take the “steps necessary to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refuelling and servicing”. It is a big ask of the government, considering that all opposition parties are pro-Russia and would object to such a move: Akel already took a stand against it.
In fact, it could be argued that the US was giving very little in exchange for Cyprus alienating Russia. Then again, if the government really wants to strengthen bilateral security relations with the US, it is the price it will have to pay. It cannot have it both ways as the opposition parties seem to think.