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Powerful US senator wants to end requiring yearly approval for US weapons sales to Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Thursday he will push to either end or extend the timeline of a legal clause that requires annual approval for the sale of U.S.-made weapons to Cyprus.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez told a gathering of Cypriot diaspora in the capital Nicosia that ending or extending that year-by-year approval would enable ethnically divided Cyprus to have the “long range planning abilities” for its domestic defense.

“I think we have to keep enhancing our military to military cooperation, as well as our intelligence sharing, which has been extraordinary,” Menendez said. “Cyprus’ geostrategic position and location is an invaluable asset to our collective security.”

The U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Cyprus in 1987 to deter an arms race in the region, but lifted the embargo in 2020 amid improving relations with the island nation, while requiring annual approval for further sales.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week approved exports, re-exports and transfers of U.S.-made weapons to Cyprus for the fiscal year 2024 after certifying that the east Mediterranean island nation met the “necessary conditions.”

Those conditions include implementing anti-money laundering regulations and denying Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and servicing.

Cyprus barred Russian warships from using its ports in early March 2022 following the the start of Moscow’s war on 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, Cyprus and Israel based on recently discovered offshore gas deposits.

The embargo in 1987 was aimed at preventing a potential arms race from harming peace talks with the Mediterranean island nation’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island's northern third and maintains more than 35,000 troops there.

Barred access to U.S. weapons, Cyprus in the past turned to Russia to procure Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems.