US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in a telephone call on Tuesday that Washington was partially lifting its arms embargo on the island, according to the US State Department.
Pompeo and Anastasiades discussed their countries’ “deepening” security relationship during the phone conversation, it said.
“Cyprus is a key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo later said on Twitter. “We will waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal defense articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus for the coming fiscal year.”
Pompeo also “reaffirmed US support for a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island,” according to the department.
Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided into two parts. The northern third is run by a Turkish Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey, and the southern two-thirds is governed by the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.
Greece and Turkey almost went to war over Cyprus that same year.
The US imposed restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus in 1987 in a declared bid to encourage reunification and avoid an arms race on the island.
‘Turkey to take countermeasures’
Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry reacted to the US’s Tuesday decision in a statement on the same day, calling on Washington to “reconsider” the decision, which it said “poisons regional peace and stability” as Ankara is trying “to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.”
The ministry said Turkey would take “the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people.”
The US decision comes amid rising tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece over oil and gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey has been sailing a seismic research vessel and escorting naval ships in waters disputed with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean Sea since early August, heightening tensions with Athens over the limits of their continental shelves.
Greece has dispatched its own naval ships to shadow the Turkish vessels. Last month, one of the Turkish vessels was involved in a minor collision with one of the Greek ships.
France has stepped up its military presence in the area in a gesture of support for Greece.