US should be wary of protecting Turkey-Greece balance
Today’s description of the Turkish-American relationship suggests a two-layered level. At the personal level, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Donald Trump have surely developed a mutual understanding, with the latter expressing his respect to Erdoğan as a tough leader.
Things at the institutional level, however, seem not so smooth and simple, as Washington, including the state apparatus and the Congress, has become increasingly vocal about its unhappiness over some Turkish policies in the region.
The ongoing tension in the eastern Mediterranean is one of them. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, in last week’s virtual American-Turkish Council conference, has not hesitated in criticizing Turkey strongly.
“There are significant and growing concerns in the United States in regard to a number of Turkish policies,” he said, adding, “We urge Turkey to cease provocative maritime operations and steps that are raising tensions in the region.” He also noted that the U.S. has been “gravely concerned by democratic backsliding in Turkey.”
This statement of the senior American official surely reflects Washington’s sentiments about this summer’s standoff between Turkey and Greece. The U.S. has openly taken the side of Greece in this dispute for several reasons, including impending presidential elections in which Greek-American votes in some swing states may make a difference.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greek Cyprus on Sept. 12 and will pay a two-day visit to Greece on Sept. 27 and 28. His visit to Cyprus came days after he lifted an arms embargo on Greek Cyprus that was in place since 1987, indicating a major change in U.S. politics concerning the divided island and the regional security structure.
(Although this move is a part of an American strategy to reduce the Russian influence on Greek Cyprus, it has disappointed Ankara and, most importantly, Turkish Cypriots.)
Pompeo’s visit to Greece will be more important for sure. A statement issued by the State Department stressed that Secretary Pompeo would “celebrate the strongest U.S.-Greek relationship in decades” in his meetings with the senior Greek authorities.
He will also visit Thessaloniki to sign a bilateral agreement and then will head to Crete island to visit the Souda Bay naval base “to underscore the strong U.S. security partnership with the NATO ally Greece.”
It’s a sovereign right for all the countries to develop their relationship, and this is the case between the U.S. and Greece. However, this should not be done at the expense of further isolating Turkey and disrupting the balance created in this neighborhood 70 years ago.
Turkey and Greece are both NATO allies and need to be equally encouraged by their allied partners, particularly the U.S., to resolve their differences through dialogue and compromise.