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26 September, 2022
 
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Turkey must behave as a NATO ally

US Senator tells Kathimerini he will not support sale of F-16s to Ankara, calls for an end to overflights

Athanasios Ellis

Athanasios Ellis

Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, calls for more steps to deepen the multidimensional relationship between Greece and the US, from defense and security to emerging technologies, the digital economy, the maritime industry and commercial shipping.

The point, conveyed in an interview with Kathimerini, is not only his deep personal belief but also acts as a message aimed at politicians across the ideological spectrum in the US as well as Greece as the two NATO allies are both in pre-election periods: American midterm elections are due in November while Greece’s next parliamentary vote, the conservative premier has repeatedly said, will be held in spring next year.

As Cypriot Americans join with Cypriots from throughout the world in their effort to unify their homeland, and as they seek to secure...a state free of illegal occupation, I will stand by them.

The Democratic senator of New Jersey underscores the geostrategic role of the northern Greek port of Alexandroupoli, which he visited last week. And he highlights the importance of the growing US military presence in the city which he describes as a key regional energy hub for the Balkans and beyond.

Menendez furthermore expresses deep concern over reports that Turkey will move forward with the purchase of a second batch of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems and makes clear that should Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continue to behave in a manner that creates problems within the NATO Alliance, he will not support the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. He also calls on Ankara to end its provocations inside Greek airspace and territorial waters, while speaking in favor of lifting restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus.

If Turkey is indeed considering buying additional S-400s, would this impact the prospect of Ankara getting F-16s?

I am deeply concerned about reports that Turkey is considering further purchases of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, a delivery that would be another clear violation of US sanctions mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions law. Between continued antagonistic violations of Greece’s airspace and the delaying of the accession process for Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, I sincerely hope Turkey will change course and live up to its responsibilities to the defense alliance by being the constructive partner in the region we all hope it can be. Until then, I cannot support the sale or transfer of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

How do you assess the behavior of President Erdogan in the region?

We can’t ignore the trajectory of Turkey under Erdogan. Today, Turkey’s democratic process has been significantly eroded, religious freedom is under sustained pressure, we’ve seen unwarranted detentions of employees of the American Embassy, record levels of attacks on independent journalists, and a total clampdown on the fundamental rights of free speech. This week’s latest military activity in Syria is further proof that Erdogan is simply not a responsible actor on the world stage. As Russia continues its brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine, Turkey’s government has a responsibility and an opportunity to unequivocally demonstrate its commitment to NATO and the shared principles and values that underpin this critical partnership. 

Alexandroupoli is rapidly becoming a strategic hub, both in the military field as well as the energy sector.

I have long advocated for more energy interdependence and cooperation between Greece, the United States and other regional partners. The 3+1 format has proven a pivotal partnership for regional security and energy security that I believe we should keep expanding upon. I am looking forward to initiating the 3+1 parliamentary component and following through on legislation I’ve authored calling for a new energy center. I was very pleased to visit Alexandroupoli this week and saw enormous potential that the port has for both US-Greece and regional cooperation. The Greece-Bulgaria interconnector is also a huge step forward in helping secure European energy independence and I’m hopeful that we can support efforts to build on that connection and bring in more European countries, specifically looking towards the Western Balkans. I was also impressed by the military upgrades that Greece and the United States have invested in elevating the port’s capacity. Given its geostrategic location, I believe there is a lot more we can do here to cooperate on the security front as we continue to think about the importance of the Mediterranean for overall security.

What are your views on the prospects of the US-Greece relationship?

The commercial ties and strong financial relationship between the United States and Greece continue to benefit both our nations. We need to continue to increase cooperation on emerging technologies, the digital economy, and all aspects of the maritime industry including port development and commercial shipping. Legislation I authored and passed – the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act – authorized a new energy center to help accelerate the region’s move towards renewables. Similarly, Congress also passed my US-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act, a law to significantly bolster US support for Greek military modernization, and foster increased multilateral engagement between Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United States. Our armed forces – and our partners’ armed forces – have to be up to date with the latest tactics and cutting-edge technologies of the future. And I am proud to have led the passage of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with Greece last year, which deepened our partnership with Greece. Greece and the United States have a relationship rooted in our shared democratic values which founding leaders of our nations embraced on the eves of our two independences. It is incumbent on us to take up the mantle and do our turn as stewards of a cherished legacy.

How do you stand on Turkey’s overflights and gas exploration moves?

Turkey must stop its provocations and incursions into Greek territorial waters and airspace. Full stop.

Where does the Cyprus issue stand, 48 years after the Turkish invasion?

Almost half a century since Turkey invaded Cyprus, Turkish troops continue to illegally occupy the north of the island. This status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable. Turkish activity in Varosha is unacceptable and in direct contravention of multiple United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. And Turkish human rights violations are unacceptable. To that end, the president of Turkey must halt his provocations immediately. I am proud to have been a leader for the Cypriot cause in Washington, where we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends and allies in Nicosia. We remain committed to the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereignty and to a bizonal, bicommunal federation. As Cypriot Americans join with Cypriots from throughout the world in their effort to unify their homeland, and as they seek to secure an economically prosperous state free of illegal occupation, I will stand by them. In that vein, with Cyprus seeking to deepen its strategic partnership with the United States, it is in our national security and economic interest to lift outdated restrictions on arms sales that no longer help US security objectives in the Mediterranean.

Finally, a question on US domestic politics: How will the Democrats do in the midterm elections?

Never before in my three decades in Congress have I been so concerned by a confluence of events putting us on the precipice of a world in chaos. From combating Covid-19 to restoring and strengthening democracy at home and abroad, we’ve been busy tackling problems that define our times and defy borders like climate change, migration and inflation. In that context, I believe Democrats have made a strong case to the American public that we are the party that stands for a brighter and better future. Just this month Democrats were able to break the gridlock in Washington by passing the CHIPS Act to make critical investments in American workers and competitiveness, as well as the historic Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which will strengthen healthcare access for millions of working-class families, all while making the largest ever investment in clean energy by the United States. As we continue leading the international community in holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his brutal victimization of the Ukrainian people, all while better positioning the US for competition with China, I believe our efforts to bring down costs for working families and investments in our national security will yield results when the American people go to the polls this fall.

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Cyprus  |  Greece  |  USA  |  politics

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