US Congress ends Cyprus arms embargo, in blow to Turkey

The US Congress voted Tuesday to lift a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus, defying Turkey by seeking warmer ties at a time of renewed tensions.

The Senate approved the measure as part of a massive defense spending bill that passed 86 to eight and already went through the House of Representatives, with President Donald Trump likely to sign it.

The United States imposed an embargo on the full island in 1987 with an aim to prevent an arms race and encourage a peaceful settlement between the Greek majority and Turkish minority.

Critics say the step has been counterproductive by forcing Cyprus to seek other partners while Turkey, a NATO member, has stationed forces in northern Cyprus since its invasion in 1974.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio spearheaded the effort, saying they also wanted to encourage growing cooperation between Cyprus, Greece and Israel.

“With Cyprus seeking to deepen its strategic partnership with the United States, it is in our national security and economic interest to lift this outdated decades-long arms restrictions that are no longer helping US security objectives,” Menendez said after initial approval of the lifting of the embargo.