U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, right, answer questions during a press conference in Athens, Greece, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Blinken is on a two-day trip in Athens, after his visit to Turkey, to meet with the country's leadership and launch the fourth round of the US-Greece Strategic Dialogue. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas, Pool)
ATHENS — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged NATO allies Greece and Turkey to calm rhetoric as both countries head to national elections, in an effort to bolster unity in the trans-Atlantic alliance as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears its anniversary.
Blinken met with officials in Athens after a stop in Turkey, where he also visited regions hardest hit by devastating recent earthquakes.
Greek and Turkish officials said they are willing to take a time out from longstanding disputes over sea boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean in the aftermath of the earthquakes that have killed about 45,000 people in Turkey and Syria.
Blinken said he hoped the pause would provide an opportunity to return to diplomacy.
“It’s profoundly in our interest and I believe in the interest of both Greece and Turkey to find ways to resolve longstanding differences,” he told reporters in Athens on Tuesday.
“And to do it through dialogue through diplomacy to do it peacefully and in the meantime to not take any unilateral actions or use any charged rhetoric that would only make things more difficult.”
Greece is expected to hold a parliamentary election in April, while Turkey will hold a general election in June.
“Both countries are heading to an election. That certainly creates, sometimes, incentives to engage in rhetoric that can create more problems,” Blinken said.
In Athens, he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as well as Greece’s ministers of foreign affairs and defense, continuing discussions to deepen bilateral military cooperation that has significantly expanded in recent years. “We’re all heartbroken over the humanitarian catastrophe that has struck our neighbors,” Mitsotakis told Blinken late Monday. “I think this horrible catastrophe has proven that there is a deep connection between our two peoples. We may have big, significant political differences, but the bonds between our peoples are there.” Celeste Wallander, the U.S. assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, accompanied Blinken on his European trip and on Monday visited military bases and port facilities in northern Greece where the United States has been granted access in recent years. They include a base near Larissa, in central Greece, used by the U.S. for MQ-9 Reaper drones, and the port of Alexandroupolis, near Greece’s border with Turkey, which has become an important logistics hub for U.S. military assistance bound for Ukraine. During his trip, Blinken called for Sweden and Finland to be admitted to NATO, which has been held up by Ankara’s concerns over security threats it describes as terrorism. He also sharply criticized Iran for providing Russia with attack drones and failing to engage in internationally-sponsored nuclear talks. Asked Tuesday if the United States would discourage Israel from taking military action aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Blinken responded: “Countries will make sovereign decisions for their own security and of course that’s no different when it comes to Israel or any country. We can’t make those decisions for them.”
Read in full Secretary Blinken’s remakrs from his meeting with Minister Dendias:
Well, Nikos, my friend, thank you so very much.
As you can all hear, I left my voice in Washington. But I will probably leave my heart in Athens. It’s hard not to.
We do meet at a time when the partnership between our two countries has never been closer and never been more consequential. And that’s a reflection of the high priority that President Biden and Prime Minister Mitsotakis put on this relationship, this partnership.
Before coming here I was in Türkiye, as Nikos was recently. Everywhere I went, among all the people I met, to include some American first responders, search and rescue teams, Turkish military families, our locally employed Turkish staff at our embassies and consulates, I saw the immense, heartbreaking toll of this earthquake throughout Türkiye in the southeast and as well, of course, in Syria. I had a chance, like the foreign minister, to be with our colleague from Türkiye, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and fly over the affected area.
So I really want to thank you, Nikos, and the Greek people for the immediate and significant assistance that you’ve been providing to people in need in Türkiye in this moment of need.
Later today I’ll have an opportunity to express my appreciation to some of the Greek first responders who came to the aid of the Turkish people. Their contributions are a strong demonstration of who Greeks are: compassionate, effective, committed to helping others. And it’s resonating around the world. This is an ethos. This is their (inaudible).
Last spring we were together when we celebrated the historic visit of Prime Minister Mitsotakis to Washington. Standing before a joint session of our Congress in the United States Capitol, the heart of our democracy, Prime Minister Mitsotakis spoke about our countries’ shared history, how the ancient Greeks inspired America’s founders, who, in turn, were an example for Greeks when they fought for and won their own independence decades later. And he spoke about how our values resonate to this day between us, how we are two democracies that are dedicated to trying to be on the right side of history, standing with allies and partners, defending democracy in our countries and around the world.
One of the things that President Biden likes to constantly remind us of is that in the United States we were founded not on the basis of an ethnic group or religious group or racial group; we were founded on the basis of an idea. And as it happens, it’s a Greek idea. It’s hard to think of a more powerful bond between peoples than the bond that exists between us.
Over the past year, Greece has demonstrated its commitment to the principles at the heart of our relationship, including as Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, and democracy through its brutal war of aggression. Now, no one wanted this war, no one likes this war. Everyone wants it to end as quickly as possible. But so long as it isn’t, so long as Russia’s aggression continues, it’s vital that together we stand up for the basic principles that are the victims of this aggression, along with the Ukrainian people. Because if we don’t, if we allow this to go forward with impunity, then we will open a Pandora’s box around the world where might makes right and would-be aggressors say, “Well, if they can get away with it, we can get away with it, too.” And that is not a future that any of us want.
One year after President Putin attacked Ukraine, it’s clear that his war has been a strategic failure in every way. That’s because of the courage of the Ukrainian people, but it’s also because of the strength and unity of allies and partners around the world who have come to support Ukraine and help it in its defense.
Since President Putin’s invasion, Greece has been a strong, outspoken voice in supporting Ukraine. As a matter of fundamental principle, you’ve opened your doors to 20,000 Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes. You were one of the first EU countries to send humanitarian support and vital security assistance. You’ve helped reinforce NATO and strengthen the Alliance’s eastern flank, including by facilitating shipments through the Port of Alexandroupolis, whose strategic importance has grown dramatically.
Earlier this morning, as Nikos said, we launched the Fourth Strategic Dialogue between our countries, during which we discussed the progress that’s been made under our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, the backbone of our security cooperation. Just over a year ago, the two of us signed an amendment to that pact. And since then, our troops have been training more closely in more places than ever. And that’s strengthening our joint preparedness, our – and security, and it offers to advance peace and stability across the continent.
We’re also working together, as you heard, on a clean energy transition, where there is enormous appetite among American companies to invest in Greece’s very significant move toward renewables. And Greece’s surging tech sector is also a major source of our investment and a key focus of our efforts to expand economic cooperation between our countries.
We’re also working together to strengthen energy security across the region, and you heard Nikos talk about that. We’re both taking steps to help Southeast Europe countries reduce their dependence on Russian gas, diversify energy sources, and deepen integration into the continent’s broader energy market. That’s both an economic and a security imperative. The United States welcomes the leadership role that Greece is playing, including through the newly constructed Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, which is putting Bulgaria on a path to import nearly 100 percent of its domestic gas needs through Azerbaijan and through the United States.
We’re working together as well across an incredibly broad array of issues, as you heard Nikos say: security and defense, trade and investment, energy and the environment, education and culture, law enforcement and counterterrorism, humanitarian challenges, disaster relief, through the Strategic Dialogue – reflecting, again, the breadth of this relationship.
But I think, when it comes down to it, the heart of the relationship is what it has always been, and that is the ties between our people. Our people have been linked by a shared history, by common ideas, by common ideals, and the unique bond about being the world’s oldest and strongest democracies.
So Nikos, I am grateful to you and grateful to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, who was so generous in his hospitality and conversation last night, for the opportunity to be here to celebrate a friendship but especially to strengthen our partnership for years to come. We both believe that that is profoundly beneficial to our people. And ultimately, the challenge for both of our countries is, in this era, to continue to demonstrate that democracies can deliver for their people. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to try to help our fellow citizens in any way that we can. Governments are here to try to make a difference in helping meet their needs and aspirations. That’s also profoundly what unites us. Thank you.
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