Sep 23 2019

U.S. turning to Greece as relations with Turkey sour - Sunday’s Kathimerini

Soaring tensions with NATO ally Turkey are causing Washington to turn to Greece as a factor of regional stability, former American ambassador Nicholas Burns told Greek newspaper Kathimerini’s Sunday edition. 

Ankara-Washington relations are faced with a wide range of issues of contention, including ongoing plans to establish a joint safe zone in northern Syria and Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system. 

Such developments are causing the United States to “look to Greece to maintain stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Burns told Sunday’s Kathimerini, adding however, that there were a “few impediments to an expanding Greek role in Southeastern Europe.”

The potentially gas-rich eastern Mediterranean Sea have sparked heightened tensions over the exploration and drilling around the divided island. 

Turkey, the only country to recognise the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, says Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in gas exploration and a share of any revenues. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, dominated by Greek Cypriots, says Turkish Cypriots will get a share of the revenues once the island is reunited.

Another problem between Athens and Ankara is what Greece is calling the continuing increase in the influx of undocumented migrants to the country from Turkey.

Greece over the past few weeks has been faced with an influx of migrants on the Aegean islands, particularly from Lesbos, which saw the largest wave since the peak of Europe’s refugee crisis in early 2016, with the arrival of more than 500 migrants last month, according to Greek officials. 

Athens in responding to the influx could close its border with Turkey to stem migrant flow, Balkan security analyst Ioannis Michaletos told the Greek Reporter on Monday. 

“More than 1.5 million people used Greece as the main gateway to enter the EU. We can more or less estimate that a significant number of extremists or veterans of the civil war in Syria, managed to use this route and embed themselves as refugees and actually make it through. Their main goal is to escape and reorganize themselves,” Michaletos said.

Turkey is one of the main departure points for migrants seeking to enter Europe by sea, but a 2016 agreement with the European Union sharply cut the numbers of refugees using that route.

Pointing out that both the EU and Greece have tried a range of measures to manage the flows of illegal migrants and supposed asylum seekers from Turkey, the security analyst said the only way to effectively deal with this issue is by closing the borders between Turkey and Greece.

Michaletos also underlined a lack of policy-making and planning by Athens on the issue.

“There is no political will to enforce a unified long-term strategy because the Greek authorities are expecting the European authorities to tell them what to do… There is no Greek national strategy,” he said.

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