ATHENS – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, visiting Greece’s capital after stopping on Cyprus, said there’s no way that Turkey will be able to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets that could be used against Greece, if it goes ahead with plans to buy a Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The New Jersey Democrat and noted Hellenophile told Kathimerini Executive Editor Alexis Papachelas in an exclusive interview that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s been stepping up provocations in the Aegean, will get both the jets and missile defense.
“There is no chance that they will have the F-35s. There will be sanctions under law that exists today. This is a purchase of a major piece of military equipment from Russia and that is a sanctionable activity for anyone in the world – including Turkey. And there is no way that we will have… an F-35 put next to an S-400 that could also really surveillance the very essence of the technology that we have in the F-35. So it is impossible to happen,” he said.
He said even some of the strongest supporters of the F-35 deal and other US officials who believe that Turkey is still a major security partner in the region have made it “very clear” that this “simply cannot happen.”
With relations between the United States and Greece – ironically under the former anti-American and anti-NATO Premier and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras – said to be their best ever, the US is walking a diplomatic tightrope between the countries.
The US has a key base on Turkey and a Naval base on Souda Bay on Crete and wants to expand its military presence in Greece, with the government said to be keen on allowing it to keep relations tight with Washington.
Menendez said while he didn’t think the US would move the Turkish base to Greece that it couldn’t be ruled out as a way to protect national security and with relations worsening with Erdogan who has kept sending fighter jets and warships into the Aegean and East Mediterranean and trying to keep foreign energy companies from drilling off Cyprus.
Concerning the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, a bill he introduced with Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Menendez said it showed the US Congress recognizes the importance Greece, Cyprus as well as Israel, which wants to take part in energy deals.
Menendez praised the deal Tsipras made that gave away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia to a newly-renamed North Macedonia, opening the door for that country to join NATO, with the US eager to limit Russian interests in the Balkans.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos met with Menendez, a session also attended by US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who has repeatedly praised Greece as being “a pillar of stability in the region,” despite stuck in economic and refugee crises and SYRIZA support for a jailed terrorist behind the killing of five Americans over the years attached to the Embassy.
The act introduced by Menendez and Rubio would require the US Secretary of State to submit to Congress a list of violations of Greece’s airspace and of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone and also seeks to lift the US arms embargo on Cyprus although NATO has done or said nothing about repeated Turkish violations.