The United States is an instrumental albeit supplementary pillar in Greece and Cyprus’ East Mediterranean policy, as evidenced by the continuous strengthening of ties between Athens and Nicosia with Washington, and the latter’s participation in the so-called 3+1 partnership between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the US. Cooperation is centered on energy – partly also as a result of US firm ExxonMobil’s involvement in hydrocarbon exploration in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and elsewhere in the area – but extends beyond that.
The US State Department has been headed for the last two years by Mike Pompeo, who handled these developments and took part in the meeting between the heads of state of Israel, Greece and Cyprus in Jerusalem last year. Because of his role as America’s top diplomat, Greece and Cyprus naturally put a lot of stock in increasingly frequent contacts with him. In the past couple of months, Pompeo has met twice with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, while there has been similar movement in ties between the US and Cyprus. He welcomed Nikos Christodoulides at Foggy Bottom just three days ago.
Pompeo’s comments during his visit to Athens in October urging Turkey to respect international law and treaties were welcome and encouraging, even though there are no excuses for complacency given American foreign policy in recent years under the erratic President Donald Trump.
Given Pompeo’s pivotal role and his personal involvement in these issues, the news on Wednesday that he may be stepping down soon – he reportedly informed officials of his Republican Party that he is planning to resign in order to run for Senate – complicates matters. Coupled with the extended state of political uncertainty in Israel, this possibility may be a spanner in Athens and Nicosia’s works.
According to reports, the ongoing impeachment inquiry against Trump has caused some friction in the president’s relationship with the State Department chief, prompting the latter to seek ways to distance himself as painlessly as possible from the administration.
Pompeo’s possible departure and the uncertainty about the US position confirm the need to deepen the tripartite partnership – which has the full support of the powerful Jewish-American community – regardless of what happens in Washington.
After changing four national security advisers, it now looks as if Trump will soon have a third secretary of state. Whoever this person may be, it is clear that American foreign policy is quicksand on which countries like Greece and Cyprus, which invest heavily in US support, cannot rely on, and are instead forced to be very cautious.