The United States pushed ahead with lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus, despite Turkey’s disapproval and recent heightened Eastern Mediterranean because “it was the right thing to do,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.
Pompeo had announced that Washington would lift a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus and deepen its security cooperation with Nicosia on Tuesday, which prompted an angry response from Turkey.
Asked about comments from Turkish officials that the decision would “agitate” the conflict in the region between Ankara and European countries, Pompeo said the move had been in the works for an “awfully long time.”
Admitting that the decision was announced in light of heightened tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Pompeo said he pushed ahead. “We thought it was the right thing, and so I made the decision we would move forward with it on the timeline that our decision was reached,” he told Al Arabiya during a news conference in Washington.
The US diplomat called on all sides in the conflict to “stand down, to reduce tensions and begin to have diplomatic discussions” about their differences over security, energy and maritime issues.
“It is not useful to increase military tension in the region. Only negative things can flow from that,” he said.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in response to a coup engineered by the then-military regime in Athens, which sought to unite the island with Greece.
The island has remained largely peaceful in the ensuing decades, with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders working to build ties in recent years.
But tensions have recently flared over Turkey’s drilling for gas off the island, with the European Union calling the move illegal.