“Three policies that we should prioritize as a community: (1) help Greece upgrade its F-16 fleet by waiving substantial fees that go to the U.S. government; (2) review the F35 sales to Turkey and condition them to not allow Turkey to be even more aggressive in the Aegean and Mediterranean; and (3) provide all necessary diplomatic (and if necessary military) cover for Exxon to complete its cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus”.
In antiquity, Delphi was known as the Omphalos (navel/center) of the world. This mentality is something that modern Greeks – and many in our diaspora – have been only too happy to keep. If geopolitics can be characterized as a puzzle, instead of trying to figure out where Greece fits, we start with the assumption that Greece is in the middle. This assumption actually harms Greece, because it prevents the development of national strategies in Athens and Nicosia and proper advocacy agendas in the diaspora.
This is more than a theoretical point given the challenges presently facing Greece. Whether we have to deal with Greco-Turkish tensions, the Macedonian issue, or the Greek economic crisis, we in the diaspora have a particular obligation to understand the context which form the backdrop for developments on Hellenic issues.A leader of one the country’s Hellenic federations recently said to me that those of us active in Washington, DC should involve the community more in the discussions being held with American leaders and the American foreign policy establishment. (NOTE: HALC has issued open invitations to the community – through this publication and online – to participate in online advocacy and in person advocacy during our conferences in Washington, D.C. We realize that not everyone is able to take days off of work to come to Washington, but everyone can spare 2 minutes a month to email or call a member of Congress. If someone doesn’t participate in ANY of their efforts, it is their choice, not our failure to involve them.) To give the readers of Greek News greater context, we will review the emerging (not yet conventional) wisdom is in Washington, D.C. on Turkey, the Balkans, and the euro crisis over the next three weeks. We start with Turkey:
While relations between Washington and Ankara are damaged, those who are hoping for a full divorce between the U.S. and Turkey have no basis for such a goal. As Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Turkey demonstrated, the U.S. believes that it cannot attain its top foreign policy priority in the region – the complete defeat of ISIS – without Turkey being involved. But as a leader in the pro-Israel community stated in reference to future relations between Israel and Turkey, the State Department and many in Congress seemed to be resigned to not being able to reestablish a “loving” relationship with Erdogan’s Turkey and will settle for a “workable” one. Beyond the region, Senior Administration officials have told us that the U.S. would prefer to have Turkey on its side in “great power competitions” to come. Turkey faces democratic, economic, and societal challenges, but its geography remains key.
That doesn’t mean that we have to resign ourselves to accommodating Turkey at every turn. For all of Erdogan’s bluster that Turkey can handle Afrin and the Aegean at the same time that is a taller order than he lets on. Turkey not only has Afrin and the Aegean to contend with, but the PKK, an unstable Iraq which it also borders, the Qatar/Gulf Cooperation Council dispute, tension with Egypt and Israel, and its continuing blockade of Armenia. Turkey has gone from a “zero problems with neighbors” policy to zero neighbors with which it doesn’t have problems. Afrin – with both the dimension of PKK friendly Kurds and ISIS – may present a serious national security (maybe even an existential) threat to Turkey. The Aegean and Cyprus’ EEZ do not. Yet they do represent existential threats to Athens and Nicosia.
As such, while Turkey has to deal with the U.S. on multiple fronts, the community must make it clear that its efforts to promote a better bilateral relationship hinge on unequivocal U.S. policy on the Aegean and Cyprus’ EEZ. After President Obama’s visit to Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras’ visit to President Trump’s White House, massive investments by American companies (Noble and Exxon) in Cyprus’ EEZ, and the upcoming Thessaloniki International Fair (with the US as the honored country) we are on the verge of phenomenal advances in bilateral relations with both Greece and Cyprus. Since 2018 is an election year, contact between US officials and the community will probably occur more regularly than usual. We are a key point of contact and insight for US officials and we must make it clear that all positive momentum in the bilateral relationships can be lost if the U.S. keeps punting on the Aegean or allows Turkey to turn back Exxon the way it turned back ENI. Three policies that we should prioritize as a community: (1) help Greece upgrade its F-16 fleet by waiving substantial fees that go to the U.S. government; (2) review the F35 sales to Turkey and condition them to not allow Turkey to be even more aggressive in the Aegean and Mediterranean; and (3) provide all necessary diplomatic (and if necessary military) cover for Exxon to complete its cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus.
Every single one of us can make a difference. You can affect the F35 sales through www.hellenicleaders.com/nojetsforTurkey. You can join us for an Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. on May 7-8. You can be part of our in-district meetings with members of Congress. If you want to do more, email us at email@example.com.
Next week: U.S. policy in the Western Balkans and how it affects the Macedonian issue.
**** Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC)