US State Secretary Mike Pompeo delivers his speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), in Athens, Greece, 05 October 2019. Pompeo is on a two-days official visit to Greece. [Yannis Kolesidis/EPA]
Crystal-clear rhetoric and powerful symbolism. The visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Greece met – if not exceeded – expectations.
Asked what Greece can expect from the US if Turkish troops were to land on a Greek island, Pompeo’s response was surprisingly direct: “You can be confident that we will act in ways that protect and preserve these basic ideas of sovereignty, these basic ideas of the rule of law, and these basic ideas around the protection of private property,” he said.
For a country which feels threatened and which has built its foreign policy on respect for international law, this was a welcome statement.
Speaking about Turkey’s provocations inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Pompeo noted that Washington would continue its efforts to persuade Ankara that these actions are in nobody’s interest. “The dispute must not be militarized,” he said, adding that illegal drillings are “unacceptable.”
It was a strong message and there was no doubt at whom it was directed. However, the degree to which it will affect Ankara’s behavior remains questionable. While the head of American diplomacy was warning against illegal drillings, the unpredictable strongman of Greece’s eastern neighbor announced Turkey would continue drilling operations within Cyprus’ EEZ and also its intention to lease a third drillship.
In any case, it’s hard to see how the US will remain passive against a Turkey that continues its provocations inside Cyprus’ EEZ, where US energy giant ExxonMobil has invested millions of dollars. It remains to be seen whether Ankara’s wrongdoing can be stopped, and how – via diplomacy or through the threat of sanctions.
Another thing that remains to be seen is whether the targeted rhetoric Pompeo expressed in Athens indeed reflects the intentions of US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly disregarded statements by his close aides and has directly opposed policies legislated in Congress, often with the backing of his own party.
In the latest sign of Washington’s inconsistency – with the president adopting a different policy to that recommended by the State Department and the Pentagon, and supported by many Republicans in the Congress – the White House gave the green light to a Turkish offensive into northern Syria.
Greece should assess Pompeo’s remarks positively, but remain reserved and hold back its expectations over the degree to which his words will translate into action.