Having lobbied US policy toward Greece and Cyprus on the front lines in Washington, DC since Turkey’s 1974 invasion and occupation of Cyprus, we found the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency a dramatic departure from nearly all previous administrations. And they did so in a shortened first year. Covid delayed the placement of his 4,000 new staff. A deadlocked US Senate further delayed 1,200 of them that required confirmation. Major foreign and domestic crises provided additional obstacles.
It had an historic beginning. Never had we seen, in our family’s 85 years of policy work in Washington, an incoming administration headed by a president, secretary of state (Tony Blinken) and White House national security adviser (Jake Sullivan) with such expertise and positive track records for their work in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Cyprus and with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They can see through slanted bureaucratic and foreign policy establishment bias toward Turkey that has damaged our national security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean for nearly half a century. All of this set the bar high for our expectations.
Some much appreciated examples of the Biden administration’s break with pervasive tradition involve decades of what we call “State Department speak”: US officials using victim-neutral descriptions of egregious, illegal acts against Greece and Cyprus. Instead, we now hear privately and see publicly the highest-ever esteem for Greece in this modern era. For example, US Ambassador to Greece Geoff Pyatt highlighted “Greece’s unmatched ability to serve as a strategic security partner for the US in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.” He put Greece on par with the United Kingdom and Germany by saying, “Our defense relationship [with Greece] is one of our strongest in Europe.”
Beyond rhetoric, Secretary Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias significantly expanded the use of the US naval base in Crete’s Souda Bay. There is also an increased focus on the US military’s presence at Larissa and Stefanovikeio air bases and the port of Alexandroupoli. Not long ago it seemed unimaginable that 3,000 pieces of US and UK military equipment could pass through Greece, as happened recently in Alexandroupoli, or that US military locations in Greece could soon double. This expanded presence moved Ambassador Pyatt to express what has been a dream of many Greek Americans. He said this buildup is “sending a clear signal to any would-be adversaries that Greece and the United States stand firmly together.”
The Biden administration’s approach toward Cyprus contrasts dramatically with our traditional policy that has been so shameful it must be enumerated. The US government discouraged interference with Turkey’s US-armed invasion and illegal occupation of over one third of Cyprus; ignored the law requiring the cutoff of US arms to Turkey because they were used aggressively in Cyprus; allowed Turkey to hide for over 20 years the massacre and mass burial during the invasion of five Americans and over 1,000 Greek-Cypriot men, women and children; pretended that Turkey was not sending hundreds of thousands of mainland Turks to occupied Cyprus; reported dishonestly for decades to the Congress that the illegal Turkish occupiers were looking to withdraw; and pressured Greek Cypriots to accept a US-drafted constitution that, among other things, prohibited them from buying land in their own country – making us an advocate of apartheid.
The contrast in 2021 was striking. As US Ambassador to Cyprus Judith Garber said proudly, “Last year we established many firsts, and we will have more in 2022.” Very soon Cyprus will open its American-supported CYCLOPS regional security center and, for the first time, Cyprus National Guardsmen have begun traveling to the US, with US funding, to train with the best at our top military institutions. For the first time, US Navy special forces and Cyprus National Guard forces held special training operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, the US held its first official Security Cooperation Dialogue with Cyprus. Due to Secretary Blinken’s renewal of an important waiver from the Eastern Mediterranean Act, Cyprus received its first official delivery of non-lethal American military equipment.
Movement in this correct direction began with the East Med Act initiated by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and several leaders in the House. It was coupled with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s S-400s purchase, and the then Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s balanced policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the election of Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Greece. The Biden administration has begun to institutionalize Greece and Cyprus deep in our strategic plans. This is an enormous opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime.
Not all Biden administration actions will hit the mark we would like, and we still have a long way to go. However, there are strong indications that all these positive actions are just the beginning. President Biden’s policies in his first year have clearly strengthened US, Greece and Cyprus security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is our hope that all parties – those leading America, Greece and Cyprus – fully appreciate the value of this new path and institutionalize these developments for the long haul. It will accrue to the benefit of all.
Andy Manatos is CEO and Mike Manatos is president of Manatos & Manatos in Washington, DC.