The US Senate Bill on the Eastern Mediterranean was passed

The US Senate Bill on the Eastern Mediterranean was passed

The so-called Menendez-Rubio Bill, what it means for the embargo

by Michalis Michael

The two-party bill for the “Eastern Mediterranean security and energy partnership 2019” (East Med Act), which was tabled jointly by Senators Robert Menendez (Democrat New Jersey) and Marko Rubio (Republican Florida), made on Tuesday an important step towards adoption, as it was approved by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its discussion will be transferred before the Plenum of the Senate in the near future. The aim of the bill is to update the United States’ strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean, so that it can face new challenges and opportunities in the region.

It will also allow the US to fully support the tripartite partnership of Israel, Greece and Cyprus through energy and defence cooperation initiatives, including lifting the ban on arms transfers on the Republic of Cyprus. A similar bill is being promoted to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, by MPs Kostas Biliarakis (Republican) and Ted Deutch and David Cicilline (Democrats). The text of the bill approved by the Commission contains three amendments.

The first sets as a condition for the lifting of the arms embargo the confirmation by the US President to the competent committees of Congress (at least annually) that, firstly, “the Government of the Republic of Cyprus continues to cooperate with the US in its efforts to implement reforms to the regulations regarding the fight against money laundering and financial supervision”. And secondly, that “the Government of the Republic of Cyprus takes and continues to take the necessary steps to deny access to Russian warships to ports for refuelling and supplies.”

The second amendment concerns military training assistance in Greece and Cyprus, which is bigger and more specific. Specifically, Greece was granted 1,3, 1,2 and 1,8 million dollars respectively for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022. And Cyprus 200, 500 and 750 thousand dollars respectively for the same years.

The third amendment is a technical one, but it places more emphasis on the Turkish violations in the Cyprus EEZ, as now the request for their complete registration and briefing of the Congress with a detailed report from the relevant ministries is in a separate chapter, while the original bill had these together with Greece.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are key partners of the United States

In a statement, Senator Menendez said he was excited about the strong bilateral support of this important bill, that marks a new path forward for the eastern Mediterranean. “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 an area of central importance for our country and therefore it must play a more important role in the way we allot our diplomatic energy, commitment and resources. I look forward to working with my colleagues so that this important legislation is quickly examined and approved by the Senate plenary,” Mr Menendez added.

The S 1102 bill:

Will lift the ban on the sale of arms to the Republic of Cyprus.

Will authorize the establishment of a United States-East Mediterranean Energy Centre in order to facilitate energy cooperation between the US, Israel, Greece and Cyprus.

Will approve $ 3,000,000 support for external military funding (FMF) in Greece.

Will approve $ 2,000,000 support for International Military Training and Training (IMET) for Greece and $ 2,000,000 for Cyprus.

Will block the transfer of F-35 aircrafts to Turkey, as Turkey continues its plans to buy the S-400 air defence system from the Russian Federation, a buy that could result in sanctions in accordance to US law.

Will require the government to submit to Congress a strategy for enhanced security and energy cooperation with the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on the malicious activities of Russia and other countries in the region.

An important step and a political priority

The Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, Endy Zemenides, characterizes this development as “an important step towards a comprehensive regional strategy for the US in the Eastern Mediterranean,” according to the Cyprus news agency. “The positive regional trends- in particular energy and security cooperation- will be speeded up with this law. The leadership of the Senates Menendez and Rubio and of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee will make the region more stable and prosperous and will promote both American interests and values,” he added. The Director of the American Jewish Commitee (AJC), Julie Fishman Rayman, explained why AJC has made the promotion of the bill a political priority.

“The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act will strengthen regional security, expand existing cooperation and secure US leadership. We thank Senators Menendez and Rubio for their vision, which reflects the real conditions in the region and helps support vital American allies and collaborators.” The Chairman of the “Justice for Cyprus Committee” of the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations said that the East Med Act is a huge leap forward in US relations with Greece and Cyprus.

“It puts Greece at the centre of a new US strategy for the Eastern Mediterranean and stops the handling of Cyprus from being a mere problem, but it puts it as a solution. The Greek-American community thanks Senator Menendez for his decades of unparalleled leadership on these issues and Senator Rubio for the promotion of this new Eastern Mediterranean strategy,” he said./ibna