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Blinken on Greek TV: opportunities exist for Greek-Turkish dialogue

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed a cautious optimism that Greek-Turkish relations could improve in an interview with Greek TV channel Mega Tuesday.

Blinken deflected questions asking him directly about a NATO response if Turkey attacks Greece, its nominal NATO ally. He also said that, while he did talk about tensions between Greece and Turkey with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, that it would not be proper to reveal the content of their talks.

Before his two-day visit to Greece, on Monday and Tuesday, Blinken visited Turkey. He said in the interview that Turkey is currently focused with dealing with the aftermath of the disastrous earthquakes, adding that people there are absolutely scared, including with the continued seismic activity.

Blinken repeated his appreciation for Greece’s prompt aid to Turkey, but, while he said that “earthquake diplomacy” was helpful, he added that the fact that both countries are entering the campaign phase for national elections “complicates things.” The Secretary of State added that he hopes Greece and Turkey can maintain the current, calmer climate in their bilateral relations and that “maybe” in the coming months, presumably after the elections, that the’ll find a way to engage in a dialogue that will help resolve longstanding disputes. If they could find away to resolve those disputes, “terrific opportunities” for both could arise.

It is evident that the US would like nothing better than to see harmonious relations between Greece and Turkey, but studiously avoid taking sides in the disputes, at least publicly. Blinken repeated the usual tropes of “good faith” and “sincere intentions” when asked about how Greece and Turkey could reconcile their differences.

Recent tense moments in US-Turkish relations and increased defense cooperation between Greece and the US have led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accuse the US of favoring Greece; he went further, saying that all US military activity in Greece and the number of military bases the Americans are using are aimed at Turkey, rather than to support Ukraine.

Speaking of Ukraine, Blinken praised Greece’s early support for the invaded nation and made it quite clear that he expected this support, including sending weapons systems, to continue.

When asked about US and NATO support in case Greece is invaded, Blinken was very positive, referring to Article 5 in the NATO Treaty guaranteeing the support of all NATO members to an invaded fellow member state. When asked what would be done if Turkey invaded Greece, he changed tack, saying he could not answer a hypothetical question. But he repeated the US position that provocative rhetoric or actions must be avoided, because they could lead to an incident, even unintended.

Blinken supported the Biden administration’s position in favor of selling F-16 fighters and upgrade kits to Turkey, despite objections in the US Congress, saying the F-16 sale is crucial to ensure Turkey’s interoperability with other NATO members. He avoided commenting on the position that the sale should be conditional on Turkey’s guaranteeing the fighters will not use for overflights of Greek airspace, although he did say the US takes allies’ security concerns seriously. He also mentioned Greece’s own acquisition of F-16s and upgrade kits, as well the future buying of the advanced F-35 fighter, a program from which Turkey has been excluded.

While Blinken praised Greece’s position as a hub for energy diversification efforts in the Mediterranean, he did not directly answer a question about explorations for natural gas, in which a US company, ExxonMobil is involved, in waters, off the island of Crete, whose jurisdiction is contested by Libya and Turkey.