New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
“The idea that a strategic – so-called strategic – partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable”, said Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State Nominee, on Tuesday, January 19, 2021, replying to questions during his confirmation hearing at Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Turkey is an ally that in many ways… is not acting as an ally should and this is a very, very significant challenge for us and we’re very clear-eyed about it,” Blinken said.
Addressing the candidate, Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez – during the time of the hearing ranking member – referred, among other things, to Turkey’s aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean against US allies Greece and Cyprus, pointing out that Turkey continues to destabilise the region.
In his concluding remarks Menendez said that the purchase of S-400 is a clear violation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). He also referred to Turkey’s engagement in destabilising actions in Syria, its invasion of Cyprus’ territorial waters and seeking to drill with Cyprus’ EEZ, an EU member state, claiming an entire part of Greece’s EEZ until Libya, the support Erdogan provides to Azerbaijan and his engagement and aggressive action in Nagorno-Karabakh which has cost so many lives, all these and many more which he expressed the hope we will not have with the new administration.
Committee Chairman (now ranking member) Jim Risch endorsed everything that Menendez said about Turkey, pointing out that he raised these issues with every Turkish diplomat coming in Washington and President Erdogan himself.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham asked Blinken:
“Congress has been very tough to Turkey as it continues to get Russian weapons S-400. Do you believe Turkey continues to be sanctioned until they change their behavior?”
“Absolutely”, Anthony Blinken replied.
“Looking at these CAATSA sanctions.. What Turkey has done as a NATO ally in acquiring S-400 is unacceptable. The idea that a so-called strategic partner of ours that would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia, is not acceptable. We ‘ll need to take a look at the impact that the existing sanctions have had, and then determine if there is more that needs to be done.”
The sanctions received bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress and were announced under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) – the first time the act has been used against a fellow member of the NATO alliance.
Replying in writing to a question by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee, Robert Menendez, over how he will continue investments described in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, Blinken said that “if confirmed, I look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with Congress and colleagues in the interagency to support robust ties between the United States and Greece, Israel, and Cyprus.”
“The U.S-Greece security relationship is important to our interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and has grown significantly as bilateral ties have improved, beginning in the Obama-Biden administration. If confirmed, I will work to continue to deepen ties between the United States and Greece, as well as Cyprus,” he added.
Surprisingly no question was asked about the Cyprus negotiation and Turkish support for a two state solution. Before the presidential elections, on October 20th, Anthony Blinken had condemned statements made by Ersin Tatar and Mevlut Cavusoglu on the issue.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Anthony Blinken also replied to a series of questions on Armenia.
Sen. Menendez: If confirmed, will you commit to funding humanitarian assistance programs to help the ethnic Armenians in the south Caucasus affected by Azerbaijan’s attack last fall? Will you commit to restoring funding for demining in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Blinken: I am deeply concerned by the renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan last fall and the ongoing humanitarian needs in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. I strongly support U.S. funding for demining efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh. If confirmed, I will also work with Congress, as well as USAID, international organizations such as the UN, and our allies and partners to meet humanitarian needs in the region.
Sen. Menendez: How can the U.S. help Armenia, and ethnic Armenians in their efforts to defend themselves throughout the South Caucasus, from Azerbaijan and Turkey’s aggression?
Blinken: I support the provision to Armenia of security assistance and aid to strengthen democratic governance and promote economic growth, both of which will help to strengthen Armenia’s security and resilience. In light of the recent outbreak of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, our administration will review our security assistance to Azerbaijan. If confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress and the Secretary of Defense to determine the appropriate level of assistance to meet the security needs of Armenia and the region.
Sen. Menendez: As an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair, how do you plan to reengage in the peace process and work towards a sustainable peace that reflects the interests of Armenians, not just Aliyev, Erdogan, and Putin?
Blinken: The President has said the United States should be leading a diplomatic effort to find a lasting resolution to the conflict, working together with our European partners, and should push for international humanitarian assistance to end the suffering. If confirmed, I will reinvigorate U.S. engagement to find a permanent settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that protects the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and helps to ensure another war does not break out. This includes stepping up our engagement via the Minsk Group, of which the United States is a co-chair, and additional diplomatic work to prevent any further interference by third parties.
Sen. Menendez: Considering Azerbaijan’s aggression in last fall’s conflict, do you plan to waive Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act and provide assistance to the Government of Azerbaijan? What is your view of providing security assistance to Azerbaijan?
Blinken: In light of the recent outbreak of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Biden-Harris administration will review our security assistance to Azerbaijan. If the circumstances warrant, the Biden-Harris administration will be prepared to suspend waivers of requirements under section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. If confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress and the Secretary of Defense to determine the appropriate level of assistance to meet the security needs of Armenia and the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that Biden had visited Turkey during his vice presidency under the Obama administration and knows the region, and that his contacts with the transition team were very positive.
He said that the new US president’s aides “declare that they want to develop good relations with Turkey and turn the page”. He also called for an end to sanctions against Turkey, especially with regard to the F-35 fighter jet, from the procurement process of which Turkey was excluded. He also called for an end to collaboration with Imam Fethullah Gulen (Erdogan’s opposition rival) and for the US not to resume support for the Kurds in Syria.
MITSOTAKIS – MENENDEZ
Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Senator Menendez on Thursday to congratulate him for becoming the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
In a message posted to his account Mitsotakis said:
“Had an interesting and productive conversation with @SenatorMenendez
. I congratulated him on his new role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and look forward to pursuing common goals of peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider region.”
Senator Bob Menendez replied:
“Thank you for the warm wishes. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I look forward to working with you to promote peace and prosperity in the region. Here’s to the work ahead.”