US lifting arms embargo on Greek Cypriots doesn't signal change in policy over island: Senior US diplomat

Türkiye is one of the US' 'longest-standing and important NATO allies,' says US deputy assistant secretary of state.

US lifting arms embargo on Greek Cypriots doesn't signal change in policy over island: Senior US diplomat

Washington’s decision to lift restrictions on the Greek Cypriot administration and open the door to arms sales does not signal a change in the US position on a possible settlement on the divided island, said a senior US diplomat. 

During a visit to the Turkish capital Ankara as well as Istanbul to attend this week’s Atlantic Council conference, Erika Olson, deputy assistant secretary of state, said that potential exports to the Greek Cypriot administration will remain reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that they support US foreign policy and national security objectives.

 Erika Olson, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State 

"Earlier this year, Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken determined that the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot administration) met the necessary conditions – outlined in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 and the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 – to allow for the lifting of defense trade restrictions for fiscal year 2023. The (State) Department annually reviews compliance with these conditions. Like Turkey, our objective is a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region, one in which we work together against Russian aggression," she told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

Turkish politicians had pointed to the lifting of the embargo as evidence that the US had abandoned its policy of “balance” between the Greek Cypriot administration and its neighbor on the island, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which remains under international embargoes.

In Istanbul, Olson took part in a session on clean energy and engaged with her Turkish and international counterparts. She also met with her counterparts from the Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, Trade Ministry, and Foreign Ministry.

She said the US and Türkiye share the same objectives of peace, security and stability throughout the region and that cooperation with NATO allies Türkiye and Greece is about promoting regional stability and deepening NATO’s collective capabilities.

"The United States’ work with Turkey and Greece, as well as our presence in the Aegean, strengthens NATO and counters Russia's aggression in Ukraine. We will continue to work with both Turkey and Greece, and urge our allies to refrain from escalatory measures,” she said.

“Turkey and Greece are vital, important allies and friends of the United States. They have their own differences, (but) we’d like to see them resolve these differences in a constructive way through dialogue, as they have in the past. Now, more than ever, we must all stand together as NATO allies to counter Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”  

'Biden administration supports Turkey’s efforts to modernize its F-16 fleet'

"Turkey is one of the United States’ longest-standing and important NATO allies,” said Olson. “The Biden administration supports Turkey’s efforts to modernize its F-16 fleet. The United States and Turkey have longstanding and deep defense and security ties, and Turkey's continued NATO interoperability remains a priority. I am encouraged to see Turkey’s commitment to working with us on this, again, for our collective security."

Her remarks came amid continued efforts by Türkiye to procure new F-16 jets and F-16 modernization kits from the US. While the effort had been stalled by the US Congress, news that the Senate dropped unacceptable conditions on the deal have buoyed hopes that the sale will finally happen.

Olson also said US-Turkish relations are thriving and growing every day, pointing to a transatlantic agreement signed two weeks ago.

"U.S. company Axiom Space signed a historic agreement with Turkey to send the first Turkish astronaut into space. The tourism sector is benefiting from record numbers of American visitors. Some 377,000 Americans visited Turkey in the first half of 2022 – an increase of 76.8% over the same period in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic," she said.

Olson also emphasized that total US exports to Türkiye in the first half of 2022 were approximately $8.1 billion, versus $5 billion in the first half of 2021, jumping 62%, and also that nearly 20% of liquid natural gas used in Türkiye is American natural gas.

She said that Turkish goods find an increasingly attractive market in the US and that last year the US was the number two market for Turkish exports (jumping from number three in 2020 and number five in 2019).

"In fact, 2021 saw a 45% increase in Turkish exports to the United States – the largest increase from among Turkey’s top five trading partners. The United States has been the second-largest foreign investor in Turkey since 2003, and we are committed to continuing the current trend of strong growth in bilateral trade and deepening economic ties," she said.  

US thankful to Türkiye for constructive role in Russia-Ukraine war

"In all my meetings with Turkish officials this week, I have expressed our great appreciation for the constructive role Turkey has played in facilitating an agreement between Ukraine and Russia that opened a maritime corridor to move Ukrainian grain to countries around the world," said Olson, referring to the groundbreaking July deal to unblock grain exports from Ukraine.

She stressed that opening the corridor was a significant achievement that is strengthening food security across the globe, adding that since early August, the initiative has so far carried more than 7 million metric tons of food to the world.

"I also expressed our gratitude for Turkey’s diplomatic work to secure the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war, as well as two American citizens, held by Russia. We have been clear that it is President (Vladimir) Putin who is directly responsible for the Russian government’s unprovoked and unlawful invasion of Ukraine,” she added.

Türkiye has been in close contact with both Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the war. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly stressed his wish to bring Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together at a negotiating table in Türkiye to end the war.

"We appreciate Turkey’s steadfast public commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and efforts to foster dialogue between Ukraine and Russia," Olson added.

Hüseyin Demir

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