US, Cyprus embark on strategic dialogue that officials say demonstrates closest-ever ties

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus-U.S. relations have reached their highest level yet after the two countries embarked on a strategic dialogue on key issues including defense, security, energy, crisis management and the fight against terrorism, officials said Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the development as a “powerful evidence of the strengthening, deepening (and) broadening of the relationship between our countries acting together in so many areas.”

“It’s a reflection of the fact that Cyprus is an important player in the region, and a partnership for the United States that we deeply value,” Blinken said ahead of talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos in Washington.

Kombos hailed the start of the dialogue as a hallmark for the east Mediterranean island nation's closest-ever ties with the U.S. in a tumultuous region where Cyprus can be relied on as a credible partner.

"The message is very simple. Cyprus is part of the solution. Cyprus is part of the answer," Kombos said.

The U.S. has embarked on similar strategic dialogues with 30 other countries, 13 of which are European Union member states.

To illustrate the added value that Cyprus can bring to such a partnership with the U.S., Cypriot officials have pointed to the Cyprus-Gaza maritime corridor from which hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid has been shipped to the Palestinian territory through a U.S.-built pier and causeway.

All aid is security screened in Cyprus with Israeli and U.S. oversight. Assisting in the overall security of the initiative is a U.S.-funded center that helps train Cypriot and other personnel from neighboring countries on issues of maritime safety and security.

Kombos said Cyprus is no longer just viewed through the political lens of its ethnic division that has remained unresolved since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded in the wake of a Athens junta-engineered coup aimed at union with Greece.

Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, has in recent years made a clear strategic policy shift toward the West — and in particular the U.S. — after decades of close relations with the former Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation. The Cyprus-Russia rift became more clearly defined following Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The annual strategic dialogue, that will be held this year in September, will also touch on cultural and education issues as well as investment opportunities.

Among the Cypriot government's key priorities through the dialogue is to fully lift a U.S. embargo on military arms sales to Cyprus without the need for annual Congressional approval. It also hopes to expedite the development of a natural gas field off Cyprus' southeastern coast that's licensed to U.S. energy company Chevron.

Another priority is to be admitted into the U.S. visa waiver program as Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania remain the only EU member states that aren't included.