Washington, DC.- By Lena Argiri
“The S-400 would be an incredible damaging action by Turkey and a huge blow to our relationship … such a purchase of the S400 system would be clearly a sanctionable item against Turkey”, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D, N.J) said in an exclusive interview to ERT’s Washington correspondent Lena Argiri, for the new show “Defteri Matia” (Second Look).
Senator Menendez offered his views on the US – Turkey relations stressing that Turkey’s actions do not speak of the type of relationship we would expect from a NATO ally” and he was adamant that you can’t have our strategic aircraft F-35 placed alongside a system (S-400) that is meant to down it.
On the Turkish provocations inside the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone he says “We must ensure that any US or international company can do its job in Cyprus’s EEZ without interference… that requires both US naval presence as well as strong diplomatic presence and it is my hope & expectation that both of these would take place”.
- We are witnessing a gradual decline in the US -Turkey relations for a number of reasons, do you think that the US is ready to reevaluate its stance toward Turkey?
think members of Congress are certainly reevaluating the relationship we have with Turkey. Turkey has always been an important NATO ally but under Erdogan it has moved in a far different direction, it is more authoritarian, is less secular, its engagement with Russia is increasingly of concern to us, especially within the NATO architecture. Its bombing of Kurds in Syria which are our allies in Syria, its aggression in the Aegean, its aggression in the EEZ as it relates to Cyprus. All of these are actions that do not be speak of the type of relationship that we would expect from a NATO ally, so I think there is a serious review going on in the minds of many about the historical view about Turkey as an ally to the US.
- I am sure that you have read the classified report that the Pentagon sent to Congress, I know that you cannot reveal nor share anything, but can you give us a sense of how willing this administration is, to take action if Turkey actually proceeds with the S400?
The S-400 would be an incredibly damaging action by Turkey in the relationship with the US. I don’t know what the administration will ultimately do but I do know this. Under the law that I helped write, the Countering Americas Adversaries through Sanctions Act such a purchase of the S-400 system would be clearly a sanctionable item against Turkey. Even with the provisions recently passed to give the Secretary of Defense and the administration some waiver authorities, those provisions if you detail what is necessary to be eligible for such a waiver I don’t think Turkey would qualify under the circumstances, so the purchase of an S-400 would be a huge blow to the relationship between the US and Turkey, it would be a sanctionable item under CAATSA and I would certainly push for those sanctions.
- Is the US ready to block the F-35 transfer, if needed?
This is why the administration must use all of its recourses, all of its diplomatic and other resources to stop Turkey from purchasing the S-400. The Congress would have to change the law in order to be able to act itself to block the F-35 but at the end of the day, if Turkey were to buy the S400 it is just simply incompatible with our NATO interoperability. You can’t have our strategic aircraft that we sell to Turkey placed alongside a system that is meant to down it and so that would βε intolerable at the end of the day, I don’t know how the administration will act on that.
- Generally speaking do you feel that the US shares the same values and interests with Turkey?
Well, not the way that Turkey under Erdogan is operating. The repression of civil society, the arrest of individuals, the arrest of US personnel at our Embassy which should be immediately released, the constant moving towards Russia, these are all actions that be speak of a different relationship than what we expect of Turkey, a different set of actions than what we expect of a NATO ally, the observation of the rules of the international law, the observation of the rule of human rights and democracy, these are all consistently under threat by Erdogan’s Turkey. And so in that respect, I can’t say that those actions in any way are actions that we share in terms of values, there are not values that we share and so this is another problematic dimension of our relationship with Turkey.
- Greece and Cyprus seem to have a new role in Washington’s strategic plan in the East Med region, how can Congress help so that this new framework becomes more solid?
I’ve had several conversation with the Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell on this issue, I like what I hear about a new East Med strategy where Greece and Cyprus and others, play a new and enhanced strategic role, I think it’s in both the national interests and security of the US as well as these allied countries to develop this strategic relationship and to the extent that a lot of these can be done, to the extent that elements of it would need a passing of laws in Congress in order to perfect it, I am certainly willing to consider that because the outline of what I understand this Eastern Med strategy to be where Greece and Cyprus and others are playing a more significant role is one that embrace.
- Are you concerned that Turkey might escalate the tension, now that EXXON’s drilling in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economy Zone is underway?
Absolutely, Turkey has already shown is aggression with the “Barbaros”, shown its aggression in the past, the most recent comments by Erdogan against are alarming. Cyprus has an absolute right under the international law to develop its EEZ to explore for oil and gas without interference. And it is because of Turkey’s past aggression and because of the words of Erdogan as it relates to the EEZ now, that I think that the US must have a strong presence; they must have a strong presence to ensure that US companies that maybe pursuing exploration in Cyprus’s EEZ are free to do so without interference, and for that fact any international company is free to do so without any threat and so that requires both a naval presence as well as a strong diplomatic presence and it is my hope and expectation that both of those would take place.
- How do you comment on the provocations and the aggressive rhetoric that Turkey is constantly using against Greece and Cyprus.
It is distressing but not unusual, particular under Erdogan he has consistently taken this aggressive hostile tone, some of the actions have been equally as aggressive and hostile. And this is the reason that we need to push back recognizing that Cyprus is part of the EU and recognizing that Cyprus has international rights and when we begin to allow any country including Turkey to violate those international rights, we send the wrong message not just to Turkey but to the global community.
- Do you believe that the Cyprus problem can actually be resolved at some point?
I believe that if the Cyprus problem was left to Greek and to Turkish Cypriots that that problem could be resolved, that there could be a bizonal bicommunal federation that ultimately would enhance and preserve the rights of all of its citizens to seek the reunification with peace and security. But, the but to that is that it has not be allowed for just Turkish and Greek Cypriots to fashion their own future, Turkey has put its heavy weight on the scale in northern occupied Cyprus and in doing so it continuously wraps up it its inability to come to a conclusion, it continuous to have thousands of Turkish troops which makes Cyprus the most militarized place in the world considering its size, secondly it continuous to send settlers from Anatolia that changes the demographic realities of Northern Cyprus. This is not the Turkish Cypriots who long live there and who believe a peaceful solution could be resolved, so the questions is what pressures have brought upon Turkey to extract itself and allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots to come to a conclusion but for so long Turkey continues to militarize, continues to populate and continues to have its heavy hand on the scale on the Northern Cypriot side then it would be a problem to reach that goal.
- There are signs of Turkey’s growing influence in Northern Cyprus and efforts to alter the identity of the occupied areas, how do you feel about it.
First of all this is a continuing occupation, the sending of individuals from Turkey who have no roots in Cyprus is an effort to change the demographic reality of Northern Cyprus and in doing so I think is a continuing violation of the Turkish occupation and is a continuous challenge towards the reunification of the island, because how do you give those who are not Turkish Cypriots the full rights under a reunified country, as you would to those who are Turkish Cypriots, I don’t see how that happens, and so this is a continuing challenge as we try to find a solution on a decades old conflict.
- What are the prospects for the lifting of the arms embargo in Cyprus?
I think they are getting better, I am strong proponent of it, I have sponsored it, I think I have signs from different entities that both in the Congress and from the administration that we are moving to a place in which lifting the arms embargo can be a real possibility and I believe that this is incredibly important especially with the possibility of having Cyprus play as we discussed earlier, a more significant role in the East Med and in the security and an economic architecture with the US.
- Turkey- Russia- Iran, are you concerned that this alliance can establish a dominant role in the region of the east med and the Balkan?
I am very concerned, when Secretary Pompeo was up for his nomination I showed a picture, I think that it appeared in the Washington Post and it was Erdogan, Putin, Ruhani the president of Iran and I said what is wrong with this picture, what is wrong with this picture is that those three individuals and countries were deciding the future of Syria and the US is not present, we have specific interests as it relates to Syria and that whole section of the Middle East, this constant aligning between an unholy alliance with Russia and with Iran is a real concern I think to our national interest and our national security and I think a real concern beyond the US for other countries in the region internationally. So, I am concerned; and this is another example of what we have discussed earlier, a moving away of Turkey from the type of the international norm than we would expect and from the alliances that we would expect as a true solid NATO alliance so yes its concerning and something that we have to continue to work on.