Joe Bi­den’s East Med po­si­tions

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY TOM EL­LIS

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.

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