ANKARA – US President Donald Trump sidelined a visiting Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ hopes of getting the American leader to intervene with Turkey to stop violations of Greek territory, Ariana Ferentinou, a Greek professor at Constantinople’s Bilgi University wrote.
A former correspondent for Greece’s state-run broadcaster ERT and radio producer for the BBC’s Greek section in London from 1980-98, she wrote in the Turkish newspaper The Hurriyet Daily News, that country’s oldest English language news outlet, that Trump – who said he considers Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a friend and a “hell of a leader” – easily deflected Mitsotakis’ push for a stronger American stance.
She also noted harsh criticism from Greece’s major opposition leader, former Premier Alexis Tsipras of the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, who called the visit a “fiasco” and accused Mitsotakis of being a “stooge” for the US although the Leftist chief had also courted the American President and said he had brought relations to an all-time with America.
Writing that Trump was being bombarded by reporters in the Oval Office about growing tension with Iran and the impeachment process against him, Ferentinou – who has a degree in history and archaeology from The University of Athens – said that, “There was not very much appetite for Greece or Turkey among the journalists, except for one who asked Trump whether “he agreed with Turkey’s provocations in Libya against Greece.”
“Are you willing to talk to your friend Erdogan to stop?” asked the journalist. Trump assured the journalist that his administration is “talking to him, when we are talking about Libya. We are discussing with President Erdogan,” but he also added, “We’re discussing (with) many countries.”
Ferentinou said that wasn’t the answer a seemingly peeved Mitsotakis was seeking. “Obviously, the President’s answer was neither strong enough nor accusatory enough against Turkey for the Greek prime minister who had to consider what his worried electorate was expecting from him when he meets President Trump, leading Mitsotakis to jump in to complain about a deal Turkey signed with Libya, dividing the seas between them and Erdogan saying his country would start drilling for oil and gas off Crete.
“It is important to point out that the agreement signed between Turkey and Libya infringe upon Greece’s sovereign rights and essentially cause great concern and instability in a region which is already highly problematic,” said Mitsotakis.
“We’ll be very much looking to your support to make sure that these types of provocative agreements are not being put into practice,” he said as the cameras whirred, but Trump pretty much ignored him apart from delicate diplomatic vague language.
“This carefully prepared statement by the Greek leader did not receive the response he would have wished for. President Trump preferred to listen to a question about the date of departure of the American forces in Iraq, much to the disappointment of the Greek delegation,” wrote Ferentinou.
She acknowledged that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice-President Mike Pence went out of their way to honor Mitsotakis at a dinner, with Pompeo later saying there would be diplomatic efforts to rein in Erdogan, without saying what they would be.
Pence and Pompeo – as Trump did lightly – praised Greece’s progress in making a slow recovery from a near decade-long economic crisis made harsher for workers, pensioners and the poor with brutal austerity measures.
“The pro-government circles rushed into praising the Greek prime minister who ‘avoided to personalize the problems with Turkey with President Erdogan as he might have elicited an ‘unpredictable’ response from President Trump,” she wrote, a strategy she noticed made Trump “unusually controlled in his reactions.”
She said with tensions running high over Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and frequent violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets that, “There is a new way of thinking is gathering pace among certain intellectual and political circles in Greece towards the ‘Turkey problem.’
“They believe that it is time for political leaders to see the ‘big picture’ in the Middle East with its new geostrategic balances and not just through the myopic lens of Greek-Turkish relations. Only then, they say, we may understand what is best for our country.”