No concessions should be made to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “without a significant behavior change,” US Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells Kathimerini.
Menendez notes that Turkey continues to display provocative behavior with regard to “destabilizing actions” in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as over the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, its “support for autocrats in Azerbaijan and its undemocratic treatment of the Turkish people.”
“The US-Greece bilateral relationship has never been stronger, and defense cooperation is a key pillar,” notes the senator, who has repeatedly expressed his support of Greece’s rights against Turkish challenges in the Aegean and also played a pivotal role in Washington’s recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Menendez, moreover, expects US President Joe Biden to continue maintaining a firm stance toward his Turkish counterpart, and believes that the 3+1 partnership between Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United States can bring significant benefits to the region.
Senator, there is still a lot of excitement in Greece and the region over your landmark Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act and the policy changes that followed from it. What developments since the East Med Act led you to come up with the US-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Act?
The goal of this new legislation is to build on the important momentum in our security relationship due to the work of Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt and successive Greek governments. The US-Greece bilateral relationship has never been stronger, and defense cooperation is a key pillar. We thought that it was important to have a congressional component to all the good work done so far and set a vision for the future.
When Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Washington, you, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator James Risch presented him with a signed and framed copy of the East Med Act. And in this new act, the overwhelming focus is on Greece again. We know that the US has invested heavily in the bilateral relationship with Israel. Do you believe that increased investment by Washington in the relationship with Athens is key to a new Eastern Mediterranean strategy for the US?
I do believe that Athens is key, due to a confluence of factors. The US has strong partners across the political spectrum in Greece. Likewise, Greece continues to have strong partners across the political spectrum in the United States. We need to solidify these gains so that the relationship can continue to grow in the future. With the 3+1 interaction among Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United States at its core, there is no limit to the potential of these relationships and our cooperation in the region. For example, Greece is leading the way in Europe on climate and advancing the conversation on renewable energy. I am proud of the role that the Biden administration has played in advancing these initiatives and expect that we will see this aspect of the partnership expand further.
When you passed the East Med Act, you seemed to be dragging along a somewhat reluctant president. Today, you have an administration that is certainly more clear-eyed about Turkey – as demonstrated in your latest public exchange with Secretary of State Antony Blinken – and one that has restated a commitment to the 3+1 over and over. How do you expect the Biden administration to receive your legislation and to capitalize on it if it passes?
I expect the administration will see this as the logical extension of President Biden’s efforts since coming into office on the defense relationship. To be clear, I don’t see this bill as an anti-Turkey piece of legislation – this is about our positive and constructive relationship with Greece and how we can build on positive momentum. A key element of this legislation is the establishment of an inter-parliamentary group to include elected officials from the Cypriot, Greek, Israeli and American legislatures. It is critical for us to play an enhanced role in advancing the 3+1 and representing the important views of our constituencies
Speaking of President Biden, do you think this legislation gave him extra leverage in his meeting last Wednesday with Turkish President Erdogan?
President Biden did not need any additional leverage when meeting with Erdogan last week. We already have plenty if we are willing to use it. I have every expectation that President Biden will continue to be firm with Erdogan and advance US national security interests when it comes to Turkey’s purchases of the S-400, its destabilizing actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, its support for autocrats in Azerbaijan and its undemocratic treatment of the Turkish people. This should be the agenda of all of our meetings with Turkey and I strongly urge no concessions to Mr Erdogan without a significant behavior change in each of these areas.
The author serves as executive editor at Kathimerini Greece