Meeting Mitsotakis, Trump Lauds Tight Ties with Greece

Αssociated Press

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON - In the vague language he uses, US President Donald Trump told a visiting Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that relations with Greece are close but wouldn’t commit to intervening with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.

Trump said the two countries are “doing a lot” together and will continue to do so but didn’t say what he meant. Greece last year renewed a military co-operation agreement after a US-Greece Strategic Dialogue as Washington wants a bigger military presence in Greece.

“We have many things to discuss, the relationship is really extraordinary, as good as it can gets. We’re doing a lot of things together, militarily, we’re also doing a lot of trade. Greece has done a tremendous comeback, we’ve worked with them very closely,” he said.

Mitsotakis said Greece is “very much interested” in participating in the F-35 program from which Turkey - over Trump’s objection as he considers Erdogan his friend - was excluded by the US Congress for purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system that could compromise NATO, to which Greece, Turkey and the US belong.

Unable to get Trump to do more at their public meeting, Mitsotakis said that a deal Turkey made with Libya dividing the seas between them was unlawful and “infringes upon Greece’s sovereign rights.” “We’re very much looking to your support... because it is a very important issue for my country,” he told Trump, said Kathimerini in a report.

Asked if he would talk to Erdogan, Trump said only that,  “We are talking to him and we’re discussing with many other countries... about that subject specifically. We’ll be talking to Russia – many countries are involved. It’s now a mess... and they know where we stand.”

Mitsotakis, who in July, 2019 ousted the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA that ironically closened links with the US after dropping its anti-American, anti-NATO stance, said his visit to the US was a chance “to set new, more ambitious targets” to boost cooperation in the areas of defense, economy and energy.

“We’re coming at a time of great geopolitical turbulence but also at a time when the Greek-American relationship is, in my mind, the best it has ever been,” he said at the Atlantic Council earlier.

“This is a very, very important relationship to Greece.” Describing the relationship as one with “strategic depth,” he said Greece has always been a “very reliable and dependable partner” of the US in a volatile region.

He said the Turkey-Libya deal that saw Turkey claim waters near major Greek islands like Rhodes, and planning to drill for oil and gas off Crete as it is unlawfully doing off Cyprus with no one moving to stop it, is “geographically ridiculous” for disregarding Crete.

“You just need to look at the map to understand that there is no connection between Turkey and Libya,” he said. He earlier said he hoped “goodwill” would prevail with Erdogan who has shown only contempt, with Mitsotakis saying Greece is “open” to asking the International Court of Justice at The Hague in The Netherlands to settle sea borders.

Mitsotakis also pointed to a political deal Greece signed with Cyprus and Israel for the so-called EastMed pipeline to bring energy to the EU, a rush job to fend off Turkey in the seas as there are no major investors yet.

Still, said the Greek leader, the agreement is “an ambitious long-term project” that will bring gas into the European markets. “For the next 30 years at least, natural gas will be the transition fuel that will allow Greece to move toward a carbon-neutral Europe.”