The United States should not support Turkey at the expense of Greece

As far as the Eastern Mediterranean is concerned, American policy is marked by strategic ambiguity. This is mainly due to regional disagreements over the vast gas and oil resources of the Levant Basin. In 2004, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Cyprus delimited its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) according to the principle of the median line; in 2003, 2007 and 2010, Nicosia further concluded agreements with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel on the same basis.

Although Turkey is not a signatory to UNCLOS, it is still bound by the same principle under customary international law. Yet Ankara insists that the extent of its continental shelf and coastline trumps this principle. The fact that Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974 has led to a contradictory claim by Turkey, turning what should have been Aphrodite’s gift into a source of conflict.

The reunification talks, which began in 1975 under the aegis of the UN Security Council, evolved into what UN Secretary-General António Guterres called “a horizon of endless process without result”. When the last round of negotiations in Switzerland failed in 2017, the Turkish position hardened.

Instead of the agreed parameters of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who is backed by Ankara, has insisted on a two-state solution. The standoff between the two communities has been a major obstacle to progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU.

Furthermore, the European Parliament, according to its report on the implementation of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), deplores Turkey’s overall destabilizing role in many areas of concern to the EU and its neighborhood. , which threatens regional peace, security and stability. .

One of the consequences has been the trilateral cooperation between Cyprus, Greece and Israel, including on various military issues. Additionally, in 2019, Egypt founded the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes Israel, Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as members, and the US and EU as observers. Turkey has been explicitly excluded.

In the same year, the US Congress passed the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act to support Greece as a valued member of NATO, Israel as a staunch ally, and Cyprus as a as a key strategic partner. Last October, the US-Greek Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) was updated to enhance already extensive defense and security cooperation. In October, Greece also concluded a defense agreement with France, which provided for the purchase of three frigates and twenty-four Dassault Rafale fighter jets.

Turkey’s “blue homeland” doctrine claims a large swath of the Mediterranean, which has brought it into conflict with Cyprus as well as Greece. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken of revoking the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established Turkey’s current borders, and has his eye on Greece’s Aegean islands, which he has renamed the “Sea of ​​Islands”.

Two years ago, Greece almost went to war with Turkey three times. In July 2020, for example, there was a clash on the small Greek island of Kastellorizo ​​off the southern coast of Turkey, and it was only thanks to the intervention of Berlin that the war was avoided.

On this issue, Washington has clarified its position; Greece’s sovereignty over its islands is not in question. Yet despite apprehensions about Turkey – for example, Turkey was not invited to President Biden’s Democracy Summit in December – the United States and Turkey have launched a strategic mechanism to consider topics of interest mutual. In this context, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was invited by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Washington for talks on May 18.

In a March 10 phone call between President Erdogan and President Biden, Erdogan highlighted Turkey’s role as a “facilitator” between Russia and Ukraine and called on Biden to lift US sanctions against the Turkey, which he considered “unjust”.

Counting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions were imposed on Turkey in December 2020 over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Additionally, Turkey was removed from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in July 2019 for the same reason. Nevertheless, Turkey asked the United States to buy forty F-16 fighter jets and nearly eighty modernization kits to modernize its air force last October.

It is therefore surprising that the State Department, in a letter to Congress, stated that it would be in the national security interests of the United States and would serve the long-term unity of NATO to approve the sale. The letter also argued that Turkey’s support and defense ties with Ukraine are “an important deterrent against harmful influence in the region.”

In light of Turkey’s role in the region and the support Greece has received, such a move can only be considered counterproductive and contradictory.

Robert Ellis is an international advisor at RIEAS (Research Institute for European and American Studies) in Athens.

Picture: Reuters.

Sharon P. Juarez