By Endy Zemenides
Special for the “Greek News”
At the 2019 Munich Security Conference, President elect Joe Biden promised his European audience: “This too shall pass. We will be back. We will be back. Don’t have any doubt about that.”
Judging by the global reaction to Joe Biden’s victory, it seems that most of the world expects that vow to be fulfilled. Everyone holding out hope for an “America is back” foreign policy was equally encouraged by President elect Biden’s choices for Secretary of State and National Security Advisor – Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan.
Any serious follower of American foreign policy knows Blinken and Sullivan well. It is no exaggeration to declare them as experienced and “battled tested” as any Secretary of State/National Security Advisor team ever, comparable to the famous James Baker/Brent Scowcroft pairing. They have been to as many countries, dealt with as many crises, and know as many people as any other pair who could have been placed by President elect Biden.
What does this mean for Hellenic issues? To begin with, never before have there been an incoming President, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who have a well-developed track record on these issues. This track record was bolstered by campaign statements – as well as direct statements by Biden and Blinken – during key moments of crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, Caucuses and Middle East over the last year. They both have worked closely with the Greek American community on these issues.
Most importantly, Blinken and Sullivan were selected precisely because of how close they already are with Biden. His views and experience on Hellenic issues has shaped theirs. Over the last year, there has been a disconnect between Secretary Pompeo’s actions on Hellenic issues and President Trump’s silence and affinity for Turkey. In 2014-15, there seemed to be a similar divergence between what then Vice President Biden and his team were doing on the Cyprus issue and what Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Nuland were doing. For the first time, there will not be guessing whether views on Greece and Cyprus are not consistent across the top brass of the Administration.
When it comes to expectations of Biden’s team, Yunus Paksoy – the Washington correspondent of TRT World, Turkey’s state-owned English language channel – issued some revealing commentary earlier this week. He described Blinken’s “views on Turkey” as:
- Supported arming the SDF in Syria – to Turkey’s anger
- Opposes Turkey’s plans on Cyprus
- “Ties with Turkey in a challenging place”
- In favor of “a positive relationship with Turkey”
Blinken and Sullivan have been described as “ready on day one”. That is good news, because there are multiple issues that have a bearing on Hellenic issues – mostly involving Turkey – that will be in their initial inbox. The Biden Administration will have the opportunity to hold Turkey accountable by moving on two fronts where the Trump Administration dragged its feet and either ignored or undermined American law. The first is the issue of CAATSA sanctions on Turkey for its purchase and activation of Russian S400s, and the second involves the case of Turkey’s Halkbank in the Southern District of New York. The imposition of even minor sanctions and a clear signal that there is no chance of political interference with the Halkbank prosecution will demonstrate to Turkey that not only the blank checks it used to get in Washington are gone, but its cynical strategy of playing different parts of the U.S. government off of each other has failed.
Another early issue that bears watching involves attempt to restart Cyprus reunification negotiations. We should recall that when Joe Biden became the Obama Administration’s point person on Cyprus in 2014, Jake Sullivan was his National Security Advisor and Derviş Eroğlu was the Turkish Cypriot leader. Biden and Sullivan did not humor Eroglu’s intransigence or his attempts at recognition of the pseudo-state. Ersin Tatar has adopted an approach even to the right of Tatar. His moves on Varosha and in declaring a two-state approach have already been openly criticized by the Biden campaign. Such push back coming from the actual Biden Administration could have similar effects to Richard Holbrooke’s criticism of Rauf Denktas as the chief obstacle to solving the Cyprus problem.
The knowledge, experience and relationships of the Biden national security team raise the level of expectations for holding Turkey accountable. This does not mean pursuing a full rupture of the relationship between Washington and Ankara, but ending American tolerance for Turkey’s destabilizing actions and continued violations of international law. There are minor, but significant, steps that can and should be taken early on in the Biden Administration. This is one Administration that cannot be excused for needing a learning curve. Ready on day one? Then act on day one.
Endy Zemenides, Executive Director, Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC)