It is time for Secretary Blinken to pick up the phone and call the Republic of Cyprus; anything less is diplomatic negligence.
By Endy Zemenides
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ choice of dates for the Geneva talks seeking to revive Cyprus negotiations were indeed unfortunate. You see, the Geneva talks being held immediately before the NFL Draft must have been intentional. Guterres might have calculated that since the US is the only permanent member of the Security Council interested in American football, maybe Secretary Blinken would be too consumed with NFL Draft rumors to engage in any way in Geneva. On that front, he seems to be right, as Secretary Blinken is the only Foreign Minister among the P5 to not have spoken to Foreign Minister Christodoulides regarding the Geneva talks.
Biting sarcasm aside, the failure of the United States to make any meaningful public impact in and around the Geneva talks raises serious issues. No matter how low the expectations for the Geneva talks, developments in and around Cyprus have tremendous consequences for the Eastern Mediterranean. The Biden Administration is keenly aware of this; after all, the beginning of the Cyprus-Greece-Israel trilaterals and the discovery of commercially viable hydrocarbon deposits in the region all happened the last time Joe Biden, Anthony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Victoria Nuland were in office.
Regional cooperation and integration advanced rapidly over the last four years. The Cyprus-Greece-Israel relationship deepened and proved that it could withstand changes in government in each country, changes in US Administrations, and pressure by Turkey. Countries like Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and France joined the party. The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum was established, followed by the Philia Forum. Former Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell started to conceive a new Eastern Mediterranean strategy for the State Department. Senators Menendez and Rubio, and Representatives Bilirakis, Cicilline and Deutch successfully passed the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act into law.
None of this is lost on the key player sin the new Administration. We’ve seen the read outs between President Biden and Prime Minister Mitsotakis, between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Dendias, and Secretary Blinken’spublic comments before the Senate and the House. They all make one thing clear: the US plans on playing a bigger role in the “3 + 1” (Cyprus-Greece-Israel + United States).
Positive moves have been made at lower levels –indeed, there was a 3 + 1 meeting on energy issues the same week as Geneva. But what is going on in the Eastern Mediterranean has been compared to the European Coal and Steel Community – which eventually evolved into the European Union. If this really comes to pass, the United States stands to benefit greatly; it will have more reliable and capable partners in the region, it will have powerful checks on malign influences and great power competitors (especially China, Iran and Russia), and it will have the ability to project hard and soft power in a more cost-effective manner.
Given this, Secretary Blinken should be asked how he thinks the European Coal and Steel Community would have worked out had the likes of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer or super diplomat (and first President of the Coal and Steel Community) Jean Monnet let any phase of European integration to be handled by diplomats who were transitioning out of office.
Unfortunately, that is what the US did by handing over the discussion on Geneva with Foreign Minister Christodoulides to soon-to-be-departing Under Secretary of State David Hale.The Biden Administration is one that understands the value of clear signaling – especially when it comes to Turkey – and it just completely dropped the ball on Cyprus.
The main takeaway from Geneva is that Turkey and its puppet regime in occupied Cyprus are sticking to their “two-state” intransigence. Given that Secretary Blinken has publicly criticized this Turkish demand, and that there are reports – confirmed by The Greek News – that the State Department summoned Turkish diplomats to inform them that such a position was a non-starter at the UN Security Council, why not put Secretary Blinken front and center?Biden officials no better than anyone that quiet diplomacy and less-than-clear signals to Ankara have never yielded the results expected from Erdogan. Given the nationalist orientation and destabilizing behavior of Erdogan of late, the hard-line nature of the Turkish Cypriot leader, and the inane suggestion by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cyprus, Jane Holle Lute, that Greek Cypriots should be more “flexible” when the main obstacle in Turkish demands for two states, there was no better time for Secretary Blinken to reinsert himself.
There are plenty of excuses for why the Secretary didn’t make the call – he didn’t have enough time (although the call with Hale lasted just a few minutes), that the US wasn’t a party to the Geneva talks (although it is a P5 member of the UN Security Council and a key player in the Eastern Mediterranean). But there is a simple reality: if the US is serious about playing a key role in the Eastern Mediterranean and checking Russian/Chinese influences in the region, it needs to build greater credibility in Cyprus. Secretary Pompeo – who did not have the same familiarity with the region, the same cachet or pre-existing relationships in Cyprus as Secretary Blinken – understood that and capitalized. It is time for Secretary Blinken to pick up the phone and call the Republic of Cyprus; anything less is diplomatic negligence.
*** Endy Zemenides, Executive Director, Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC)