Joe Biden’s East Med positions
Greek-Turkish relations are in a particularly sensitive phase as the US presidential election race enters the final stretch. Athens – among many others – is increasingly concerned by Ankara’s aggressive stance, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to promote the notion of a “Blue Homeland” and to persist with alarming initiatives in a broad geographical area. His revisionist agenda, which seeks to overturn international treaties and allow Turkey to expand to conform with the “borders of our heart,” is no longer just theory, but is being put into practice with moves on the regional chessboard, from Syria to Libya. In the face of these negative developments, Greek is banking on its European Union membership, investing along with Cyprus in tripartite partnerships with Israel and Egypt, and relying on the stabilizing effect of America, which is still the country with the greatest influence over the Turkish president. Yet Athens cannot pin too much hope on the current White House chief. For many reasons, including personal ones, US President Donald Trump is always eager to hail his friendship with his Turkish counterpart, while at the same time he has not shown any special regard for international law. Greece gets more understanding – though not full support – from the other pieces of the institutional puzzle in Washington. Congress, the State Department and numerous think-tanks are also growing increasingly alarmed at Erdogan’s behavior. It is very likely that Joe Biden is similarly concerned about the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. The experienced ex-vice president and senator of 36 years – many of which were spent on the foreign affairs committee – is one of the few frontline American politicians who understand the East Med puzzle, Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue so well. That is why his deafening silence is hard to understand. In contrast to the overwhelming majority of American politicians, Biden knows the people and issues involved, so he doesn’t need to be briefed on or convinced as to what is going on. He has visited Ankara on numerous occasions, as well as Athens and Nicosia. He had met with leaders in all three countries, including Erdogan, many times. No one expects the Democratic presidential candidate to side entirely with Greece or Cyprus. There are interests and balances at play. But what he can do in this phase of increased East Med tension – whose results he may have to manage if he’s elected as the next president of the United States – is to state his position on developments in a region that is of particular interest to America, not just because of its potential energy reserves or because of Greece or Cyprus, but also because of other important countries, from Israel and Egypt, to Syria and Libya. Turkey is a significant country with a role to play. It’s just that its partners and allies – foremost the US – need to help it understand that it cannot play this role by ignoring or violating the rights of its neighbors, which are not, after all, small countries with no political, economic or military clout. Biden has obviously been focused on picking a running mate. It’s an important decision, perhaps even more so given the presidential candidate’s age. Still, with elections just four months away and Biden clearly leading in the polls, this is the right time for him and his staff to plan their East Med strategy, with clear messages to Turkey, and make it public.