In the 1970s, a coup d’état and subsequent military invasion of the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus entangled U.S. foreign policy and left Congress and two presidential administrations in the position of determining how the government would respond to the complex situation. In this two part blog post, we will investigate how the Senate responded to the initial invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and then how those actions were reconsidered later in the decade under Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd’s leadership.
The Republic of Cyprus was established to govern the island, inhabited by ethnic Greek and Turkish communities in 1960, placing the nations of Greece and Turkey in opposition over control of the new government. For over a decade, Greece sought to unite Cyprus under its policy of “enosis” (union of Greek communities living outside of Greece with the Greek state). These tensions boiled over into the July 15, 1974 coup d’état which overthrew President Makarios III and established a pro-union government. In response, Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974 and in the coming weeks established the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, claiming the northern section of the island as its own territory.
Missouri Senator Thomas F. Eagleton introduced Senate Bill 397 to bar further military assistance to Turkey, an action which President Gerald Ford publicly opposed. A similar measure was added to the HJ Resolution 1131, a continuing resolution which President Ford vetoed in October 1974. In a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives, President Ford stated “instead of strengthening America’s ability to persuade the parties to resolve the dispute,” the embargo would “imperil our relationships with our Turkish ally and weaken us in the crucial Eastern Mediterranean.”
The persistence of Congress led to a final effort in December 1974 to impose the embargo. The Senate approved an amendment calling for an end of arms sales and military aid to Turkey unless the president could reach a diplomatic solution by December 10, 1974. When President Ford failed to break the impasse by the specified date, the embargo went into effect on February 5, 1975. In the short term, the embargo did little to ease the tension in Cyprus and instead threatened the already fragile alliance between Turkey and the United States. Within four years, Congress would again be debating the controversial embargo.