The United States has decided to lift a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus despite Turkey’s approval because “it was the right thing to do,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sept. 2.
Pompeo said the move has “been a long time coming,” noting Washington’s “long-time” efforts on the matter.
“We know that this decision was announced in light of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, but we thought it was the right thing, and so I made the decision we would move forward with it,” Pompeo said during a news conference in Washington.
“We are urging everyone to stand down, to reduce tensions and begin to have diplomatic discussions about the conflicts that exist there in the eastern Mediterranean, the security conflicts, the energy resource conflicts, the maritime conflicts,” Pompeo said.
“They need to sit down and have conversations about this and resolve this diplomatically. It is not useful to increase military tension in the region. Only negative things can flow from that.”
Pompeo had earlier in the week announced that United States would lift a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus and deepen its security cooperation with Nicosia. Pompeo’s announcement angered Turkey, with several government officials saying that such a move has the risk of increasing the conflict in the region.
The island was divided in 1974 following a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Turkey recognises the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognised by other countries. Several peacemaking efforts have collapsed.
Washington placed restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus in 1987 to encourage reunification efforts and avoid an arms race on the island.
The decision comes amid escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean between NATO allies Turkey and Greece over claims to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves.
Turkish Foreign Ministry said the decision “disregards the equality and balance” on the island and that Ankara expects its NATO ally to “review” it.
“Otherwise, Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people,” it said in a statement.