Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday that Turkey will respond to the United States’ recent decision to lift the arms embargo on Cyprus “with tangible steps” accusing the US to escalate tensions in the island with the decision.
“We will respond to the USA’s decision with tangible steps. As upon your (US’s) wish for an escalation in the island, we will do what is necessary,” Çavuşoğlu said at a speech in the western province of Muğla on Sep. 30.
He also had emphasized on Sep. 28 in a speech that Turkey would send “more forces and arms to the island to protect Cypriot Turks”.
Çavuşoğlu’s comments are one of a series of condemnations of Ankara that came after the United States Congress partially lifted its arms embargo against Cyprus on Sep. 16, to allow for “non-lethal” military goods to be sold including military training programs.
Escalation in Cyprus
The US Congress agreed that Cyprus has fulfilled all the requirements of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 passed by the US Congress following a proposal by US Senators, which conditioned Cyprus to refuse Russian military vessels docking in ports and implement stipulations against international money laundering.
Ankara condemned the move with a statement on Sep. 17, indicating that the US move would escalate the “arms race” in Eastern Mediterranean, disrupting the peace and stability.
“This decision, which is in contradiction to the principle of equality of the two sides on the island, and which will further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence, will negatively affect the efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue; and it will lead to an arms race on the Island, harming peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the statement read.
Turkey’s National Security Council on Sep. 28 also called out the United States “to reconsider” its decision, emphasizing that Turkey would “not refrain from resorting to all legitimate measures and tools within the framework of international law to protect its rights and interests” against “Greece’s unreasonable moves”.
Çavuşoğlu stated on Sep. 29 that he addressed this issue at his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in their meeting in New York, asking why Washington “is not donating money rather than donating arms”.
Crisis over US arms to demilitarized islands
Turkey-Greece relations have come to a tenser course after Turkish security forces reported on Sep. 25 that Turkish Unmanned Aerial Vehicles detected activity on the demilitarized Aegean islands. Sources shared the footage recorded by the UAVs of two Greek landing ships transporting military vehicles provided by the USA to Lesbos and Samos.
After the incident, Ankara summoned the Ambassador of Greece to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sep. 27 and conveyed a diplomatic protest to the United States.
In the protest note, Ankara demanded Washington comply with the Eastern Aegean islands’ demilitarized status in providing military equipment to the country and that measures be taken to prevent the use of weapons in violation of this status.
Upon a question on Sept. 28 press briefing about Washington’s response to the protest, US Secretary of State speaker Ned Price said “We would refer you to specific governments regarding any deployment of their own defence equipment. We are always taking a close look at the security assistance, including potential weapon systems and supplies, that we’re providing to allies and partners around the world”.
Erdoğan: US’s unequal treatment of NATO allies
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sep. 28, criticized the US for its “titled stance” amid tensions between Turkey and Greece, calling out Washington for its “unequal treatment of NATO allies”.
“Our expectation from the United States is not to misdirect Greece and not to allow international public opinion to be manipulated,” Erdogan said.
Stating that the US’s steps “ignores and even encourages the Greek steps that threaten peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean will result in an arms race on the island,” he said adding that Ankara “will not take a step back”.
“Surely, we have taken, are taking and will take necessary steps in this regard in Northern Cyprus,” he said.
“We will not fail to defend our country’s rights and interests, using all the means at our disposal, when necessary, against Greece, which we continue to follow closely in every field, and this should be acknowledged well,” he added.
Turkish-Greek relations had already been intense as in Aug, security forces of Ankara reported three incidents where Greek air forces harassed Turkish F-16s on NATO mission with a radar lock, prompting tension between the two countries.
In the United States Congress in Aug., passed legislation allowing F-16 sales to Turkey, however stipulating the fact that Turkey needs to ensure that she will not use the jets against Greece.