The United States’ decision to lift its arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration will “embolden” it and hence lead to an escalation in the region, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) said, while Türkiye also “strongly” condemned the decision and warning that the move would harm efforts for a Cyprus peace deal, lead to an arms race on the island and undermine regional stability.
TRNC President Ersin Tatar warned in a statement that the decision can also cause further intensification of tension between Ankara and Athens, both NATO members.
“As the Greek Cypriot administration is expected to further accelerate its armament efforts and provocative position, we will not remain idle,” he said.
Tatar added that the decision once again proved the legitimacy of their insistence on Türkiye’s role as guarantor of the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots.
Earlier on Saturday, the TRNC’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision, calling it “unacceptable.”
The U.S. lifted defense trade restrictions on the Greek Cypriot administration for the 2023 fiscal year, the State Department said Friday.
“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defense articles,” according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
The U.S. policy requires the denial of exports, re-exports or transfers of defense articles to Cyprus unless the president determines and certifies to congressional committees authorities there are cooperating with Washington to implement anti-money laundering regulations and financial regulatory oversight reforms.
The TRNC ministry drew attention to the recent arms deals of the Greek Cypriot administration, including a deal to purchase attack helicopters from France and efforts to procure missile and long-range radar systems.
“The statement of the United States of America to remove the arms sales embargo is constituting a matter of concern,” it said.
The ministry also highlighted that the decision contradicts Washington’s claims of supporting the agreement between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island and preserving the stability in the region.
“Therefore, the perpetuation of the effective and actual guarantee of Türkiye, which is provided under the Treaty of Guarantees, is by no means questionable and evidently vital more than ever,” it added.
Supporting the TRNC’s stance on the matter, Türkiye called on the U.S. “to reconsider this decision and to pursue a balanced policy towards the two sides on the island.”
“The international community, including the U.S., should reaffirm the sovereign equality and equal international status of the Turkish Cypriot people, which were also confirmed by the 1959-60 agreements, and act accordingly,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
“In any case, Türkiye, as a guarantor country, in line with its legal and historical responsibilities, will continue to take necessary steps for the existence, security and serenity of the Turkish Cypriots, by all means,” it added.
It urged the U.S. to reconsider, warning that the move would harm efforts for a Cyprus peace deal, lead to an arms race on the island and undermine regional stability.
Reaction of Greek side
On the other hand, the Greek Cypriot administration on Saturday hailed the full lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on the ethnically divided island nation as a milestone reaffirming increasingly tighter bilateral bonds that serve to bolster stability in the turbulent Eastern Mediterranean region.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades tweeted his gratitude to the chairperson of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, for helping to lift the embargo.
The Greek Cypriot administration barred Russian warships from using its ports in early March following the invasion of Ukraine.
The conditions are enshrined in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that the U.S. Congress passed in 2019. The law underscores U.S. support for closer ties among Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and Israel based on recently discovered offshore gas deposits.
The U.S. enacted the embargo in 1987 to prevent a potential arms race from harming peace talks with Turkish Cypriots. Barred access to U.S. weapons, Greek Cyprus turned to Russia to procure Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems.
Türkiye has many times invited its NATO ally United States to adopt a neutral stance on the Cyprus issue.
Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong dispute between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the U.N. to achieve a comprehensive settlement.
Ethnic attacks starting in the early 1960s forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety.
In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece’s annexation led to Türkiye’s military intervention as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence. As a result, the TRNC was founded in 1983.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Türkiye, Greece and the United Kingdom.
The Greek Cypriot administration entered the European Union in 2004, the same year Greek Cypriots thwarted the U.N.’s Annan plan to end the longstanding dispute.
Today, the Turkish side supports a solution based on the equal sovereignty of the two states on the island. On the other hand, the Greek side wants a federal solution based on the hegemony of the Greeks.
Türkiye, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that their excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Türkiye and the Turkish Cypriots.