Menendez: Greece ready to play renewed leadership role in the region

Menendez: Greece ready to play renewed leadership role in the region

Greece is ready to play a leading role in the Eastern Mediterranean after emerging from the debt crisis, US Senator Robert Menendez has said, adding that opportunities to deepen security ties in the region “have never been more promising.”

“The country emerged from the economic crisis with its democratic institutions intact, no small feat given the challenges,” Menendez said in an interview with the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) on Saturday.

Menendez – who last month visited Athens as part of a regional tour promoting bipartisan legislation that would allow the US to fully support the trilateral partnership of Greece, Cyprus and Israel through energy and defense cooperation initiatives – also stressed that “the possibilities for energy, security cooperation and prosperity have never been brighter” in the region. He went on to warn that Turkey will be subjected to sanctions if it proceeds with purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia.

Speaking on Chinese investments in Greece, Menedez said that notwithstanding the positive short-term outlook, “there are long-term implications with respect to… infrastructure or IT that could impact the security and privacy of Greek citizens.”

Below is the full interview:

You recently visited Greece and the region of Southeastern Europe. How do you see the geopolitical landscape being shaped in this region and what is the role of Greece?

I think that this is a very exciting time for the region. With the promising energy potential as well as the growing defense ties, the always strategically important Eastern Mediterranean region has only grown in significance. Greece is getting back on its feet economically and ready to play a renewed leadership role in the region. The country emerged from the economic crisis with its democratic institutions intact, no small feat given the challenges.

Earlier this month, I was proud to introduce the Eastern Mediterranean Partnership and Security Act with Senator Marco Rubio. The bill lifts the arms embargo on Cyprus, increases military training and assistance for Greece and express support for energy diversification in the Eastern Mediterranean. The time is right for renewed US attention to the region and I hope that my legislation will help to kickstart this conversation.

US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt has stressed that relations between Greece and the United States are at their peak, historically, and improving further. What has contributed in recent years to the upgrading of the role of Greece and Cyprus in the strategic planning of the USA in the Southeast Mediterranean region?

The possibilities for energy, security cooperation and prosperity have never been brighter in the Eastern Mediterranean. The opportunities to deepen security ties that bring peace, security and prosperity have never been more promising. The US administration has taken important steps through the Strategic Dialogue with Greece, Letter of Intent with Cyprus and participation in the trilateral format among Greece, Israel and Cyprus. The Eastern Mediterranean Partnership and Security Act helps to put a congressional imprint on US policy, in a way that shows bipartisan support for a robust Eastern Mediterranean strategy.

How do you assess the course of the Greek-US Strategic Dialogue inaugurated last December and how can the momentum that has developed in the two countries’ relations be exploited? What are the prospects for further deepening bilateral relations?

I think that the prospects for deeper relations are quite good because our relationship is based on shared values including respect of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. There are measures that we could take to deepen our bilateral cooperation across the board, especially on security and counterterrorism. For example, I think that we should increase the opportunity for our servicemembers to train together – we increase funding for these programs through our bill.

I think that we also should consider ways to encourage US private sector investment in Greece to assist in aiding the continued economic recovery. I am concerned that while Chinese investment in Greece may seem positive in the short-term, there are long term implications with respect to Chinese investments in infrastructure or IT that could impact the security and privacy of Greek citizens. 

How does the discovery of large quantities of natural gas in Cyprus’ maritime region affect the role of Greece and Cyprus in Southeastern Europe?

The energy resource discoveries could have a very positive impact on energy security in the region and potentially on energy diversification in Europe. The Mediterranean Gas Forum is an important platform for these conversations across the region, and could perhaps contribute to constructive dialogue among the countries on other issues.  I hope that the energy finds will prove to be significant enough to result in the development of commercially viable energy infrastructure across the region. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline was an important proof of the concept and I am glad to see that it will come online soon. I also believe that there is enormous potential for renewables in both Greece and Cyprus and hope that both countries will redouble their efforts to meet their environmental commitments as members of the EU.

Can the Turkish threats endanger the commercial extraction of Cyprus’ deposits? What are the expectations from Exxon-Mobil’s participation and how does the US view the Turkish threats?

Cyprus has the undeniable sovereign right to explore its own Exclusive Economic Zone, free from any outside interference. I am glad that American companies are involved in the exploration as it is an indication of US commitment to the energy independence of the region.

Turkey insists on the purchase of the S-400 weapons system from Russia. The US has sent the message that in such a case, it will proceed with sanctions against Ankara. What form could such sanctions take?

Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Thought Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which I helped to write, anyone that conducts a significant transaction with the defense or intelligence sectors of the Russian Federation will be subjected to mandatory sanctions. This provision was written in response to the role of Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors in the attack on the 2016 US election. If Turkey takes the delivery of the S400, it must be sanctioned. I hope that Turkey chooses a different path because these sanctions would have a significant impact on Turkey’s defense sector and its ability to engage with the US.

Is it possible to soon resume the dialogue to resolve the Cyprus issue? Which do you think should be the key conditions for relaunching the talks?

I indeed look forward to the day when Cyprus will be one  bizonal, bicommunal federation where all communities and faiths can live together in peace. I support a peace process on the terms set by both communities – not determined or shaped by any outside power. The people of Cyprus, on both sides of the green line, should be allowed to determine their own future. Without undue influence from Ankara, an agreement could be reached.