Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the stated goal of the 1987 U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus was designed to reduce tensions between Turkey and Greece.
“It hardly worked that way, however, given Turkey’s continued supply of weaponry to portions of Cyprus it still occupied,” Rubin said.
Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup that sought unification with Greece. Cyprus has been divided since then between a Greek Cypriot south, a European Union member, and the Turkish Cypriot north, only recognised by Ankara.
Rubin said there has been a re-orientation in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years, as Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now occupies significant chunks of three countries, and may seek to seize the Greek island of Kastellorizo as it makes ever more aggressive maritime and hydrocarbon exploration claims.
Cyprus says that its drilling for hydrocarbons in the waters around the island is backed by international law, citing its exclusive economic zone.
Ankara claims Cyprus is both impinging on Turkey’s continental shelf and violating the rights of the northern side of the island.
Trump asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo four months ago to make a final decision on whether to lift the embargo. Rubin said that Cyprus was a strong ally of the U.S. and its military, and that there are many figures across the political spectrum in the United States who support ending the embargo.
“Even against the backdrop of partisan polarisation, a bipartisan array of congressmen and senators recognise both the injustice of the continued Cyprus arms embargo and how contrary it runs to U.S. national security and peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean,” Rubin said.