Holding that President Trump’s diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean has failed the expectations of Americans in Greece, the Greek department of Democrats Abroad are expressing the hope that a Biden win could finally make headway toward satisfying solutions in long-standing controversies on more than one issue.
In an online talk organized by the Greek department of Democrats Abroad, experts on US-Greek relations analyzed the challenges of the current tumultuous situation in the region and the reasons why they think a Biden administration would be most beneficial for easing the tensions.
“The Trump administration has continuously paid lip service to Greece while warmly embracing Erdogan. Prime Minister Mitsotakis had an official visit to the US in January and came back empty handed while the current US President lauded the Turkish leader,” Stacey Harris-Papaioannou, Chair of Democrats Abroad Greece, told Greek Reporter.
“In July, with the arrival of the Turkish research ship Oruc Reis off the coast of Kastelorizo in the Eastern Aegean, Erdogan proclaimed Turkey had the right to explore and exploit the natural resources off the island’s continental shelf.
“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides for exclusive rights of a coastal state on its continental shelf which has a minimum breadth of 200 nautical miles.
“The US State department did not defend Greece’s right to its natural resources but instead said it was not clear if the Turkish ship was violating Greek borders. Although US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Greece last week to assure that tensions in the region would de-escalate, today the Oruc Reis is once again positioned to provocate in the Eastern Aegean”, she added.
Making the comparison with the years of his own tenure in Greece, from the mid-80s through 2004, when the US were “the go-to party” who both Greece and Turkey looked to, retired Ambassador Thomas Miller was the first to admit to his Zoom interlocutors that his country is now totally absent from developments in the region.
“With the latest incidents in the Eastern Med, the French and the EU got involved, whereas the US is not a player because of the total chaos and confusion in the Trump administration.
“And that is one of the legacies of the last four years, of the Trump administration; we have totally abdicated that role, we have totally abdicated that responsibility, and that’s just sad,” he stated.
However, the former diplomat pointed out that the timing is now perfect to negotiate with Turkey.
“On energy specifically, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that energy prices are so low right now that making sizeable investments at the current price of energy is problematic. And the good news is that that’s a perfect time to try and negotiate differences, when the pressure is less. And that’s where I think a Biden administration, if invited by both sides, could be a player,” Miller explained.
He continued, saying “Eventually, as we have seen in the past, prices will increase, once the Covid crisis is over and demand picks up. So, now is the time to be resolving these kinds of issues, of pipelines, particularly gas pipelines. It’s not so much that Greece has these resources, but that Greece is a phenomenal transit point for the rest of Europe. And that’s what we are talking about.”
He added that Biden’s existing knowledge of particularities and developments in the region, from the time when the now-presidential candidate was serving as chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, can make all the difference.
“Before I was Ambassador to Greece, I was a Cyprus negotiator, and I remember Joe Biden was very interested; he wanted to know what was going on in the Cyprus negotiations. So here is a guy who is not going to have to learn the playbook; here is a guy who has written the playbook and studied the playbook for many years.
“He is going to be driving his staff — sometimes driving his staff crazy — because he will know more than them. That’s our role, whether it’s Cyprus, whether it’s Eastern Med, whether it’s a territorial kind of scuffle with Turkey, any of these issues. This is something that a Biden administration could get started on from day one,” he concluded.
On the other hand, retired Greek Ambassador to the US Dimitrios Tsikouris made it clear that any conversation on the exploitation of energy resources in the Eastern Med is pointless unless Turkey refrains from further provocative actions and threats of violence.
“The main problem we have now is the daily violation of article 2 paragraph 5 by our neighbor, which is daily threats of force. When we have daily threats of force, and we have experienced this in recent weeks, nothing can flourish and no companies will come here and prospect for oil.
“What we expect is, once the Biden administration is in place, to implement the promise to press Turkey to refrain from any further provocative actions. Then the technical details will follow. But this is the precondition now. We cannot talk about prospecting and doing things when we almost went to war a month ago. The precondition is to go back to normalcy and convince Erdogan to refrain from his Ottoman dreams,” Tsikouris stated.
Commenting on another overwhelming regional issue, the incessant flow of refugees toward Greece, and the proxy use of the latter by Turkey, US Senator Lou Raptakis added that, at the moment, policy on the Eastern Mediterranean is one way: “President Trump has made a complete disaster at trying to rain on Turkey. Again, with Biden winning the presidency, working with the EU, I think that is going to again bond the policy where you are going to have Europe working with the US and then the US Senate (to solve this problem).”
He believes that Senator Menendez, who has repeatedly criticized the current US administration for their statements on Turkey’s regional claims, would probably take over as chairman of Foreign Relations if Democrats were to win the US Senate next month.
In closing, Sen. Raptakis noted that “Turkey is all over the map: Libya, Syria, Armenia –you talk about refugees and you could have another problem. The Europeans have to get on board working close with the US. We need a unified policy with Biden working with leaders in Europe and with the EU and with Greece and Cyprus to try to resolve this issue once and for all.”
An estimated 110,000 to 120,000 US citizens are living in Greece, of whom all of voting age are eligible to vote through a law enacted in the mid ’70s.
Democrats Abroad Greece recommends that US Citizens who want to register to vote and cast their absentee ballot go online to the website Vote From Abroad (www.votefromaborad.org) and to use courier services that can guarantee delivery of 4 business days to send their ballots across the Atlantic.
An Emergency Ballot, known as FWAB (Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot) is available to download for those who have not received their official absentee ballot.
For voting assistance online through one-on-one Zoom sessions, Democrats Abroad Greece can be contacted by email or phone at [email protected] and 00306942940720 respectively.