The United States it won’t much longer stand for Turkish warships trying to block foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and said if Ankara goes ahead with plans to buy Russian missiles then US F-35’s won’t be up for sale.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell said the US had made its stance on the matter “clear” to Turkey and wasn’t happy with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing provocations in the Aegean, including having Turkish fighter jets and warships violating Greek airspace and waters.
“The US cannot be silent when Turkey’s leaders curb democratic freedoms and the rule of law, harangue Israel, and wield rhetoric or pursue policies that unnerve Ankara’s neighbors and (America’s) close friends and allies,” he said.
Cyprus, he said, is “a vulnerable state that needs greater Western attention while continuing the process toward a bizonal, bicommunal federation.” He added that energy resources in the region are “a major plank of European energy diversification as Europe’s traditional northern fields wind down.”
He also warned if Turkey proceeds with the purchase of Russian S-400s, its participation in programs with the US, including the F-35’s, could be off the table. Greece and Greek-American groups said they feared the US jets could be used against Greece as could the Russian missiles if a conflict developed.
Turkey has reportedly chosen to delay – but not cancel – the delivery of the S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia by a few months, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.
The report said that Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a meeting in Washington on June 4 that his country chose to have the S-400s delivered after 19 months, instead of the nine-month option offered by Russia.
The official reason presented by Turkey was that it needed more time to train its soldiers to use the new anti-ballistic missile systems, which would otherwise have to be handled by Russians.
“If we had accepted a nine-month delivery option then we would have no control on the use of S-400s. They would be used only by Russian experts, as national software would not be ready to be uploaded,” the report added.
“Instead, we have chosen the 19-month option so that we could prepare our technical works and use them under fully Turkish control. We are very sensitive on this,” the official added.
PILLAR OF STABILITY
As has US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Mitchell said that Greece is “an anchor of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Balkans,” speaking out with Erdogan seeking re-election in snap June 24 polls he called.
Erdogan is also furious that Greece would not return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed July, 2016 failed coup against him in which they denied taking part. They were freed after a maximum 18-month detention period but while Premier Alexis Tsipras opposes asylum for them, he said they can’t be extradited after Greece’s highest court barred their return, saying their lives would be in danger.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos briefed NATO on a threat by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag that Turkey will kidnap the Turkish soldiers and as two Greek soldiers remain detained after accidentally crossing the border while on patrol March 1 in bad weather, with no charges brought.
Both countries belong to NATO but the defense alliance’s chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said he wants no part of the troubles and Greece is on its own.
Kammenos said Bozdag’s comments implied Turkey will launch a military campaign against a NATO ally to “abduct” the Turkish servicemen.