Washington.- By Lena Argiri/ERT
Last Monday, ranking member of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez has sent an extensive letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, denounces the escalation of Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean in a way that threats US interests and provocations against sovereign rights of Greece, Cyprus and other countries. And called for the immediate imposition of CAATSA sanctions on Turkey.
A day later, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), in a second letter to Secretary Pompeo, asked for a full accounting of Pompeo’s role in President Trump’s repeated efforts to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.[
Greek National Television’s (ERT) correspondent Lena Argiri had an exclusive interview with Senator Menendez and discussed these issues.
Thank you for this interview, I would like to talk a little bit about your EastMed Act,which mandates and provides additional tools for American engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean. Do you think that the US has projected a strong presence there? And if not, doesn’t this create a vacuum that can be filled by Russia, China or Turkey that seems determined to become a dominant player in the region?
The reason that I passed the East Med Security Act in December into law is because the Eastern Mediterranean is at the cusp of tremendous opportunities on security cooperation, on energy cooperation, on really playing an outsize role in the region and for that fact in the world. And so I am glad to see what we have done in Greece with the ports, our military ports there in Souda Bay, in Larisa, there have been some good investments made there, good cooperation, there have been less so in Cyprus, which is something that I had been instigating the administration to do. Cyprus has made some very significant movements particularly in its financial sector as the US gov wanted to see, there are some issues with reference to engagement with Russia but at the end of the day I think we need to reward the very significant advances that Cyprus has done and that is why we have been instigating the State Department to do so. But yes, if we do not fully engage in the East Med other players particularly the Russians and Turkey will do so and that is not in the national interest and security of the US and it is not in the national interest and security of our partners in the region.
We are witnessing an increase in Turkish violations lately and a more hostile tone that is being demonstrated. What do you think Erdogan wants to achieve.
I think that Erdogan wants to expand the scope of his influence, he sees himself as a player far beyond the borders of Turkey. He is incredible aggressive in ways that the international community should be condemning, certainly suggesting that there is an EEZ all the way to Libya that violates the Greek sovereignty, certainly the continuation of violation of Cypriot EEZ is another problem, the violation of the arms embargo on Libya is another example, the encounter they had with the French naval vessel in the midst of enforcing the arms embargo, these are all examples, the purchase of the S400 in violation of international law, not in conformity as a NATO ally with a NATO process of making sure that equipments are interoperable with NATO system. Erdogan wants to be a bigger player, he wants to expand Turkey’s abilities both territorially and in terms of its influence.
Some leaked parts from Bolton’s book are very critical of the relationship that the President had and still has with Erdogan. Do you think that this relationship might be the reason why the CAATSA sanctions have not been implemented yet?
It may very well be. It may very well be. Look there is a reason, something is up that the Treasury Department has not gone ahead and sanction the HALKBANK, something is up when in fact we see that the US attorney from the Southern District of New York who was pursing the issue of HALKBANK, now all of a sudden is being dismissed by the Trump administration. These are too many coincidences to suggest that there isn’t fire there in terms of that the administration is playing along with Erdogan and his desires. It is Erdogan who tried to get HALKBANK off the hook, it is Erdogan that is tried to convince the administration that they shouldn’t be sanctioned for the S400. It is not acceptable, this is the law and we pride ourselves as a nation of laws we need to enforce the law; that is why we are pushing the administration hard to do so.
Whenever the State Department comments on Turkish violations, it calls on all parties to avoid actions that could trigger, that could create tensions in the region. As you correctly mentioned recently, the only party that is creating problems there is Turkey. Why don’t we see a tougher or a public condemnation of these actions? What do you think.
I think there is a disconnect between Congress’s tough views vis a vis Turkey and the administration’s views vis a vis Turkey, I raised that at a hearing a while back, that we should not be saying that all parties should refrain. Because Greece and Cyprus are doing nothing to create a problem in the region, to create the potential for tension. No
, it’s only Turkey that is doing so, so you call out the country that is in violation, you don’t ultimately lump everybody together as if they are all the same, they are not, this is another question of why is it that the Trump administration is unwilling to pursue Turkey in violation of US law as it relates to the S400, in violation of the arms embargo as it relates to Libya, in not acting as a good NATO partner because of the inability to interoperable promote the S400 and also in violation of international law with the sovereign rights of countries that are EU members and allies of the US