The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is deeply concerned with recent statements made by a senior U.S. Department of State official that conveys contradictory messaging on Administration policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland traveled to France, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, and Germany, April 2-9, to discuss "regional security, economic issues, and bilateral priorities."
Under Secretary Nuland Comments on Eastern Mediterranean Energy
During her visit to Turkey, Under Secretary Victoria Nuland said she supported Eastern Mediterranean energy projects, including pipelines, as a means of helping diversify Europe away from Russia gas, remarking, “there are many different opportunities in the eastern Mediterranean, some of which will involve your immediate neighbors, new gas discoveries and new pipelines will need to be made. ” However, during her trip to Cyprus that followed, Under Secretary Nuland stated the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline is not economically viable and would take too long.
It is important to note the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act (“East Med Act”), signed into law in 2019, makes it an official policy of the United States government to support Eastern Mediterranean energy and related projects, such as the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline. As per the East Med Act:
“SEC.3 STATEMENT OF POLICY. (3) to strongly support the completion of the Trans Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean Pipelines and the establishment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals across the Eastern Mediterranean as a means of diversifying regional energy needs away from the Russian Federation. ”
AHI President Nick Larigakis stated, “The importance of Eastern Mediterranean energy is elevated significantly at this current moment, given Europe’s need to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas and seek alternative sources of energy. Energy cooperation is a critical component of the “3 + 1” mechanism between Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the United States. However, it must not be up to one of the parties, the United States, to impose its own energy policy upon the parties, but rather, it should be up to the parties to arrive at an energy policy that best serves their collective interest. Under Secretary Nuland’s contradictory messaging on Eastern Mediterranean pipeline projects, indicating her support and subsequent skepticism of such projects within the same week, is confusing and unhelpful. It gives the appearance of appeasement of Turkey. ”
Foreign Minister of Greece Nikos Dendias rebutted Under Secretary Nuland’s comments on Eastern Mediterranean, stating, “The EastMed is alive and kicking.”
A Significant Location in Cyprus
While in Cyprus, Under Secretary Nuland inaugurated the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security (CyCLOPS) with Cyprus foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, a notable highlight of stronger U.S.-Cyprus bilateral relations.
However, during a press conference, Under Secretary Nuland made a significant misstatement, calling the illegitimate pseudo-leader of the occupied area, Ersin Tatar, as "President Tatar." Nuland attempted to correct her statement by saying, "it has been a long time since I have been in Cyprus."
No country, other than the Republic of Turkey, recognizes the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Then-Vice President Biden, during his visit to Cyprus in 2014, stated, "The United States - I want to be clear about this - recognizes only one legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus." Then-Senator Biden stated, in a January 27, 1989, to then-American Hellenic Institute Chairman Dr. Dean Lomis: “And we must urge the new Administration [President George H.W. Bush] to make Cyprus a higher policy priority in American foreign policy… we cannot lose sight of the fact that the rights of Greek Cypriots have been trampled upon, and we must ensure that their claims to ancestral land and property seized during the 1974 invasion are not compromised. Finally, we must send a signal to Turkey that until it has removed every last soldier from Cyprus, it will never be recognized as a full member of the international community. ”
AHI President Larigakis stated: “We appreciate Under Secretary Nuland’s visit to the new CyCLOPS center, a recognition that Cyprus is an important strategic partner. However, Under Secretary Nuland undercut her efforts by referring to Ersin Tatar as "President," contradicting the policy of the State Department itself, as the United States does not recognize the so-called 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.' Even more unfortunate, Under Secretary Nuland tried to excuse the mistake by stating that she has not been to Cyprus in a long time. By offering such an excuse, she is either admitting a lack of preparation for her visit to Cyprus, or ignorance of basic State Department policy vis-a-vis Cyprus. As Under Secretary Nuland is awa
re, words have consequences, especially in sensitive areas of the world. Her misstatement is completely unacceptable and needs to be immediately rectified.”
In addition, Under Secretary Nuland made several perplexing statements during her trip to Turkey.
During an interview with the Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish news outlet, Under Secretary Nuland stated, “First of all, it’s strongly in our interest, we believe it’s in the interest of both Israel and Turkey to have good strong relations, trade relations, energy relations.”
However, Under Secretary Nuland failed to acknowledge President Erdogan’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic policies and statements, which the department has condemned, and Erdogan’s hosting of Hamas, which the department slammed.
In addition, Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades confirmed, that during his private discussion with Victoria Nuland, she “conveyed the need to involve Turkey in the energy developments of the Mediterranean.”
Larigakis stated: “For Under Secretary Nuland to dictate to Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel, whom are leading the efforts on regional energy cooperation, that they must “involve” Turkey on energy matters is absurd. Turkey constantly engages in provocations against Greece, does not recognizes the Republic of Cyprus, funds terrorism against Israel, and is hostile to the current government of Egypt. The Turkish government needs to completely change its behavior for regional countries to even consider its inclusion in regional energy projects. Under Secretary Nuland’s comments either reflect a desire to appease Turkey, or a complete lack of understanding of regional realities.”
Furthermore, in the same interview, Under Secretary Nuland stated, “I would say Turkey’s played an absolutely pivotal role. Turkey’s been a stalwart defender of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from the beginning.”
According to Larigakis, such a statement demonstrates a complete double standard, given Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Cyprus, as well as Turkey’s broader ambitions to establish itself as a hegemon in North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Mediterranean, as openly noted by Turkey’s “blue homeland doctrine.”
Separately, Under Secretary Nuland, when speaking on U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations, said, “Given the fact that democracies act together, just as authoritarian governments act together, we can also address global issues in this way."
According to Larigakis, Under Secretary Nuland’s statement seems to imply that Turkey is a democracy, which is blatantly untrue. Turkey is widely known for its human rights abuses and increasing authoritarianism. As a 2020 Presidential candidate, Joe Biden openly referred to Turkey’s President Erdogan as an “autocrat.” Freedom House rates Turkey as a country that is “not free,” and Amnesty International constantly notes that Turkey is one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world. In February, 2021, more than 50 United States Senators wrote to the Biden Administration to highlight the Turkish government’s authoritarianism and human-rights abuses, among other issues.
“To all these points, Under Secretary Nuland’s comments are completely confounding, ahistorical, and simply wrong,” Larigakis said.