US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell told Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that Washington is “constructing a long-term strategy to bolster the US presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
To this end, “we are cultivating Greece as an anchor of stability in the Mediterranean and Western Balkans and working to systematically strengthen security and energy cooperation with Cyprus,” he stressed.
Asked about Turkey, Mitchell said that “our immediate concerns are to… prevent Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 system; and to develop a modus vivendi for our respective forces and local partners in stabilizing Northern Syria and preventing ISIS’s return.”
The American official also said that securing the release by Turkish authorities of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, and other unjustly detained US citizens and local embassy staff, was also among Washington’s top priorities vis-à-vis Ankara.
Regarding the sale of more than 100 F-35 fighter jets by the US’s Lockheed Martin to Turkey, a move that Greece vehemently opposes, Mitchell said that it may rely on how Ankara responds to demands from Washington that it halt its plans to purchase S-400 missile systems from Russia.
“We believe that we continue to have the time and ability to ensure Turkey does not move forward on the S-400 before having to take a decision on the F-35s. We’re being very clear in our messaging to the Turks that there will be consequences,” Mitchell said.
“We also encourage President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan to implement immediately his recent pledge to lift Turkey’s ongoing state of emergency, and to take additional measures to represent the diverse views of all of Turkey’s citizens and strengthen Turkey’s democracy,” Mitchell noted.
“Keeping Turkey on a track towards not only the political West, but the geostrategic West has to be a – a prime objective for US strategy in the region,” he added.