The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would require the State Department to monitor Turkish violations in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone and that would bolster energy cooperation with Cyprus, Greece and Israel in the region.
The vote for the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act comes just a few days after Ankara sent a second drill ship off the coast of Cyprus and hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would prevent any efforts to drill for gas that “ignore” the rights of Turkey and the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus.
At the committee level, the bill was adopted by a large majority, with objections by Jeff Merkley and Ed Mark being related to environmental factors rather than the geopolitical content of the law.
The bill was introduced in April by Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, and Republican Marco Rubio. A similar bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Ted Deutch, David Cicilline and Gus Bilirakis.
“I am thrilled to see such strong bipartisan support for this important piece of legislation to chart a new path forward for the eastern Mediterranean,” Senator Menendez said in an announcement on Tuesday after the bill was passed at committee level.
“Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are key partners of the United States, and today’s vote confirms that we need a new strategy that reflects our mutual interests. The Eastern Mediterranean is a region of central importance to our country, and it must therefore figure more prominently in how we allocate diplomatic energy, engagement and resources. I look forward to working with my colleagues so that this important legislation is swiftly considered and approved by the full Senate,” he said.
The move was also hailed by the Hellenic American Leadership Council as “an important step towards a comprehensive regional strategy for the US in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
“Positive regional trends – especially cooperation on energy and security – will be accelerated by this act, ” said Endy Zemenides, HALC's executive director.
The East Med Act seeks to lift a ban on arms sales to Cyprus; authorize the establishment of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the US, Israel, Greece and Cyprus; and grant foreign military financing assistance and training to Cyprus and Greece. It also seeks to stop the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey if Ankara proceeds with plans to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
An amendment to the original bill also creates a separate chapter on Turkish violations of the Cypriot EEZ and the secretaries of State and Defense's obligation to submit reports to Congress.