US Senator Bob Menendez, in a visit to Athens, said Greece can feel more at ease against Turkish provocations under President Joe Biden than during the volatile administration of former president Donald Trump, who was pro-Turkey.
In an interview with the newspaper Kathimerini the New Jersey Democrat, who is head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Greece as Turkish fighter jets again violated Greek air space, a frequent occurrence.
“The Trump Administration was extremely transactional in a way that went above and beyond anything that I’ve seen in 30 years. I think the Biden administration is committed to a core set of values, values that the president has developed over this time,” he said.
Menendez said he believes the administration of Biden who, like him is close to Greece, is nevertheless willing to try a “transactional” relationship with Turkey although he ripped Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Menendez said he thinks that the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement between Greece and the United States will be signed within the next two months and could see Greece getting used but more advanced military hardware.
Turkey – which, like Greece belongs to NATO – has purchased a S-400 missile defense system from Russia, an ideological enemy of the defense alliance which could be used against Greece in a conflict.
Menendez said Erdogan's decision to buy the system was “an enormous miscalculation” on Erdogan’s part because the Turkish leader thought he could avoid consequences and largely has, although barred from buying US-made F-35 fighter jets.
He said the violations of Greek air space by Turkish jets “is another dimension of Turkey’s violation of, not only Greek sovereign airspace, but of international engagement and international law, and this is one of the many issues that concerns us about Turkey,” the paper reported.
Earlier in his visit, to celebrate Greece's 200th anniversary of independence from the four-century rule of the Ottoman Empire, he said, ““We all aspire for a Turkey that is a bridge between east and west, a strong NATO ally, a secular government committed to the principles of democracy and rule of law,.”
.Menendez said in brief statements after meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. “Unfortunately, under (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan that has not been the reality, so we must deal with the reality that we have.”
Neighbors and fellow NATO members Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over a series of disputes, including territorial rights in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries, and over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Relations have been tense over the past year, particularly over exploratory drilling rights in the Mediterranean areas Greece claims as its own exclusive economic zone.
“Turkey has issued, in violation of all rules of law, a threat of war against Greece if it exercises its inalienable right for the expansion of territorial waters of (its) islands,” Dendias said.
“It is the only country in the international community that has issued a threat of war, casus belli, against another country,” he said, but Greece nonetheless keeps trying diplomacy. Reporters were barred from an alleged news conference as Dendias and Menendez did not want to take questions, only issue statements. Greece says it maintains its right to extend its territorial waters from the current six to 12 nautical miles around its Aegean islands. Turkey has said such a move would constitute a cause for war, arguing it would block its own access to the Aegean. In January, Greek parliament voted to extend its waters along its western coastline, on the other side of the country, to 12 miles.
Greece’s western coastline faces Italy and borders Albania at its northern tip. But the expansion was aimed at asserting the country’s right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12-mile limit in 1982.
“We believe in the context of international law, so therefore we believe that each country’s rights and its exclusive economic zones need to be observed. We believe that when there’s conflict, different issues, they need to be resolved under the rule of law and in the appropriate forums and not by force,” Menendez also said.
“We have an inflection point in global history at this time. It is a choice between two different views,” the Senator also added.
“One that we share, that promotes democracy, human rights, the rule of law, fulfillment of the individual dream, and that permits open societies in which to achieve that. The other is an authoritarian view that oppresses people, ultimately seeks to coerce economically nations, and undermine of the rule of law, both at sea and elsewhere,” he added.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)