ATHENS, GREECE – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the 15th Manuel Chrysoloras keynote speech on security cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. At a speech hosted by the European Public Law Organization (EPLO), Menendez spoke about the geostrategic opportunities for the region and laid out a strategy to promote peace and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Menendez is currently traveling through the region promoting his Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, bipartisan legislation that would allow the U.S. to fully support the trilateral partnership of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel through energy and defense cooperation initiatives – including by lifting the embargo on arms transfers to the Republic of Cyprus.
Below are the senator’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Professor Flogaitis, I would like thank you for that kind introduction and your welcome here in Athens. EPLO’s leadership in scholarship and the advancement of public law in Europe is so essential in an uncertain world where more and more autocrats seek to flout those rules of the road so essential to our economic wellbeing, shared prosperity and security. Please continue to keep up the great work.
I am honored to be in the presence of such a prominent group of government officials, members of parliament and representatives from the diplomatic corps. In particular, I want single out my fellow Americans who are here and have invested so much in Greece.
I also want to acknowledge the presence of the U.S. Ambassador Geoff Pyatt. Geoff and I first met during a visit to Ukraine when he was Ambassador in Kyiv. During that trip, Russian troops streamed across the border in the form of little green men, the beginning of an armed conflict that continues to this day. Geoff helped Ukraine get on its feet during those darkest hours of its recent history. I am proud of the work he did representing the United States in Ukraine and am glad that he and the U.S. Embassy team here in Athens are working every day to strengthen this critically important bond between our countries.
I am honored to be delivering the 15th Manuel Chrysoloras lecture here at EPLO. The legacy and work of Mr. Chrysoloras has been studied for centuries – he was an exceptional figure, extolling and exporting the knowledge and wisdom of the greats from Homer to Plato in the Greek language. His legacy serves as an inspiration to so many of Hellenic descent today who work in academia and elsewhere to breathe renewed life into ancient Greek tradition, language and culture. His legacy also serves as inspiration to those of us who may not have Greek blood, but feel a deep connection to all that Hellenic culture has contributed to our shared civilization through the centuries.
And now I am here before you as someone who believes that these contributions from ancient civilization, these quintessentially Greek values, truly do underpin the international order in our modern day and provide the basis for democracy and the rule of law around the world.
I serve as the Ranking Member, the top Democrat, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position that gives me a purview over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy around the world.
On our committee, we continuously examine the core interests of the United States. Who are our true allies and where are our strategic alliances? Who are our competitors? Who are our adversaries? How do we implement a foreign policy that contributes to a safer world? One that is more prosperous. One with more open societies. One that is more democratic.
And as you are well aware, the challenges in U.S. foreign policy abound. A rising China. A revanchist Russia. Terrorism. The war in Afghanistan. A dictatorship in Venezuela.
I have to say that as we look around the world from the committee perch, the challenges have never seemed greater since the end of the Cold War.
To confront these problems, we need allies and friends in democratic countries. Countries that share our values of democracy, respect for human rights and open economies. Countries that share a deep respect for the rule of law. Countries that share our outlook on security.
I am here to propose that the Eastern Mediterranean as a region is a place where we can find such friends. A region where democracy was born, a region with allies that share our values. A region of unique geostrategic possibility as a bridge between east and west. So much possibility.
But also a place where Russia and China have increasingly sought to exert power and influence.
Over the course of my 27 years of public service in the House of Representatives and the Senate, I have been a stalwart supporter of the deep American bonds with Greece, Cyprus, Israel and others in the region. These bonds are rooted in rich and vibrant diasporas and in a shared abiding faith in democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
And I am proud to stand before you today and say that this truly is the dawn of a new day in the eastern Mediterranean. The possibilities for energy, security cooperation and prosperity have never been brighter.
The opportunities to deepen security ties that bring peace, security and prosperity have never been more promising. These possibilities exist if we are willing to seize them. If we have a plan. If we first and foremost simply show up, compete and demonstrate that the United States is a reliable partner and engaged ally.
So that’s what I’d like to share with you tonight. My assessment of the challenges from countries like Turkey, China and Russia. And my proposal for how we can work together on a strategy that promotes peace and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Let’s start with those challenges and an acknowledgment that they are real, and in some respects are growing.
Some of the most deep-seated problems in the region unfortunately have roots in Turkey under President Erdogan.
The 2016 coup attempt and its aftermath have debilitated the democratic process in the country. Hundreds of academics, opposition activists and journalists languish in prison - in fact, Turkey leads the world with the most jailed journalists. Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkey is arbitrarily jailing hundreds of lawyers. Targeting lawyers is a tactic we see from the worst of oppressive regimes - not what we expect from a NATO ally.
Included amongst the imprisoned are American citizens and employees of the United States Embassy. This is simply unacceptable. Bogus charges against, and essentially hostage-taking of, U.S. citizens and mission employees are not the actions of a friend. As a most basic standard, U.S. citizens and employees and their families at our missions across the world must feel safe and secure. They should feel safest – and I can’t stress this enough -- they should feel safest within the borders of a NATO ally. But that is not the case in today’s Turkey.
President Erdogan’s warming relationship with Moscow is disturbing on many levels. First, the Kremlin is an adversary of NATO and has made its intentions crystal clear on the world’s stage. It’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s attack on the 2016 U.S. election. Its chemical weapons attack in the U.K. This is not a responsible actor. This is not a reliable partner. And yet Turkey insists on treating it as such. And as Turkey seeks favor with Russia over the situation in Syria, the ties have grown stronger in other areas.
Turkey’s unfathomable intention to purchase the S-400 missile system is dangerous in the context of NATO and reckless in the context of its own long-term security.
Let me make two things absolutely clear. If Turkey takes the S-400 for delivery, it will be sanctioned under a U.S. law, that I was a co-author of, which penalizes significant transactions with the Russian defense sector. The law is clear and unambiguous. These sanctions could have devastating consequences for Turkey’s economy and defense sector.
Second, if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400, it will not have access to the F-35 fighter jet. That plain fact is simple and clear. There is no scenario in which an F-35 can be parked next to an S-400 system. None. And the sooner that President Erdogan comes to this realization, the better off we will all be. This view is held by the Administration and by a broad bipartisan group in the Senate and House. Rarely do we find such consensus on any issue.
As you all in this room are acutely aware, the challenges posed by Turkey extend to how it treats its closest neighbors.
We see this in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus. Turkish interference there is unacceptable. The Republic of Cyprus is well within its rights to explore for energy within its EEZ and the U.S., as well as the private sector, must be prepared to support those efforts in word and in deed.
Turkish violations of Greek airspace over the Aegean are dangerous, reckless and could result in a miscalculation that plunges the region into conflict. Again this is not acceptable behavior from a NATO ally. It is not the behavior of a responsible nation. God forbid if Turkey’s brazen actions were to result in the loss of life on Greek islands in the Aegean.
Turkey’s behavior in recent years requires that we ask some fundamental questions. Does it indeed want to be a democracy? Does it indeed want to be a member of NATO? Does it indeed see a future with the West?
I hope that Turkey will reorient itself. I hope that it will return to a democratic path. I hope that it will return to being a constructive member of NATO. I hope that its future is with the West. These are hopes that are shared by leaders across Greece and Cyprus who want a peaceful future with a constructive, democratic and secular Turkey.
But hope is not a strategy, nor can it be a policy. A strategy for the Eastern Mediterranean need not be anti-Turkey. But any realistic strategy does need to be clear-eyed. It needs to consider the best way to mitigate the challenges posed by Ankara. It needs contingencies.
Some have suggested that my legislative effort is somehow anti-Turkey. On the contrary, I believe that even absent the challenges posed by Turkey, even if we had a perfect partner in Ankara, building the security and energy architecture of the region is in our mutual interests and should be pursued. And such efforts are not unlike similar U.S. initiatives around the world.
The region has also increasingly become a platform and crossroads for Russian and Chinese influence. As we all have come to realize, China plays four-dimensional chess around the world, militarily, economically, diplomatically, and culturally.
If you need an understanding for how China’s Belt and Road Initiative will play out on the world stage, look no further than its island-building campaign in the South China Sea. This effort threatens not just regional stability, but the free flow of commerce, to freedom of navigation, to the resolution of disputes consistent with international law.
Through its Belt and Road initiative, China has used lucrative port contracts and support at bodies like the UN to grow its influence and win friendly trade terms. Globally, China’s brand of international diplomacy is best described as manipulative investment.
The U.S. may not be in a position to counter ‘dollar for dollar’ China’s state-owned enterprises or checkbook as it builds infrastructure around the world. But we also don’t need to be. That is not where our competitive advantage lies.
The U. S. must lead efforts to engage recipient Belt and Road countries and empower them to negotiate Chinese investment on better terms.
America and our allies must be present to create, shape, and set standards for the 21st century, or risk seeing the rule of law in these countries washed away in a flood of Chinese cash. It is not too late, but time is certainly running out.
Revitalizing the rules-based order and institutions built for the 21st century means dealing with the challenges posed by technology and artificial intelligence. It means being honest about how these advances can also lead to economic displacement. It means reforming our institutions in a way that delivers economic prosperity for all of our people.
Our best hope at establishing the rules of the road for the future of global commerce is to work together.
For example, the increasing prevalence of Huawei and other Chinese technologies in the ?European market is of growing concern and akin to entering into a deal where the Chinese military is your partner and your Achilles heel.
I have similar concerns about Chinese investments in infrastructure, like the Port of Piraeus here in Athens. What may seem like regular economic transactions can have serious security implications. While these ports may be commercially desirable, can they be relied upon at times of national emergency when the movement of goods or military vessels become critical?
This requires the United States, European Union and the international financial institutions to step up to the challenge, be present, and counter Beijing’s efforts to snap up infrastructure. As I understand it, Greece engaged in the Piraeus deal when in the depths of its economic crisis. Had the international community woken up to the potential implications of Chinese investments at the time, perhaps something could have been done to support Greek efforts to find alternative investors.
Likewise the United States must work with our allies to counter aggression by the Russian Federation.
Russia has made clear an intention to be more active in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Starting with its support for a war criminal in Damascus to its aggressive efforts to use energy as a weapon throughout Europe, Russia has proven to be an unreliable actor, one that long ago decided to disregard the rules-based international order.
As we saw last week, the Mueller Report clearly described the Kremlin’s assault on the U.S. democratic system. Russia’s malign influence operations could destabilize the European Parliament elections in May.
I have argued for years that the weakness of the international response to Russian assertiveness will only invite more aggression from the Kremlin.
And Russian pressure on governments across the Eastern Med is real and sustained.
It’s unacceptable, but with no real multilateral strategy to address Russia in place, we remain flat-footed while President Putin charges ahead.
This is why last month Senator Lindsey Graham and I introduced the Defending Americas Security from Kremlin Aggression Act – or DASKA – to improve our ability to meet the Russia challenge.
The bill increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine and its malicious influence campaigns, both by targeting the oligarchs complicit in the Kremlin’s malign actions as well as Russia’s energy and financial sectors.
I know there are differing views among our allies as to whether increasing sanctions pressure is the right approach. But as we confront serious challenges from bullies on the world stage, we have few options in our foreign policy toolbox.
Unlike Russia, which uses its military as a tool of first resort to pursue its aims abroad, we are limited to the peaceful tools of diplomacy – Persuasion. The denial of aid. The denial of trade. In the case of Russia, those tools have not worked so we resort to sanctions in order to confront this aggression.
So let’s remember the facts of the case. Recent history speaks volumes. The partnership with Maduro in Venezuela, leading to untold suffering. The illegal occupation of Crimea and the attack in the Kerch Strait. The use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. The assault on the 2016 United States election. Propping up of a butcher and war criminal in Damascus. The violations of international law on the high seas. And on and on and on.
I believe Moscow will continue to push until it meets genuine resistance. Our sanctions thus far have failed to change Kremlin behavior because they have not succeeded in changing the Kremlin’s calculus.
Countering Russia’s malign influence also demands more resources.
That’s why we seek to bolster the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, the NATO/EU Hybrid Center and other nongovernmental efforts in the U.S. and Europe. All of these entities must be present, especially here in the Eastern Med where the Kremlin clearly seeks a strategic foothold.
So this is how I see just some of the challenges to the region. From Turkey to China to Russia, they are real and growing. And it calls for the United States to be more present, more active and more strategic. It calls for a plan.
So what is our answer? We can’t simply complain about Turkey, China and Russia. We have to offer a positive vision for the region moving forward.
A good starting place is the legislation that I introduced last week in the Senate with Senator Marco Rubio. The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act sends a clear message from the Senate to the region and the world. The Eastern Mediterranean is a region of central importance to our country. And it must therefore figure more prominently in how we allocate diplomatic energy, engagement and resources.
Here in the Eastern Med, I applaud the work of Secretary Pompeo, whose participation in the 3+1 in Jerusalem last month was historic. I urge him to participate in the next meeting. The engagement must be sustained and also take place at the highest levels. Putin and Xi have proven ready to meet the region’s leaders regularly – if the U.S. is serious, President Trump must do the same. We cannot expect our views to prevail if we don’t show up.
Our bill has one overriding message. The U.S. should be much more present in the Eastern Mediterranean and support our friends.
Let me start with Greece. Here, in this ancient city, the concept of democratic government was born so many hundreds of years ago. And this proud Hellenic legacy has seen this country through wars and economic hardship. And through the centuries, this city, this place, has served to inspire so many around the world to aspire to a better democratic future for themselves. This was especially true in recent years as Greek democratic institutions proved remarkably resilient in the face of devastating economic circumstances.
The recent U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue was an important step forward and I applaud the hard work of the teams on both sides. I am proud to say that under Ambassador Pyatt’s leadership, our defense relationship with Greece is the strongest it’s ever been. As a NATO member since 1952, Greece is a key contributor to the Alliance, starting with its 2% of GDP spending on defense. Greece actively participates in Afghanistan, and in the Baltic Air Policing missions. I commend its joint command at Thessaloniki’s NATO Rapid Deployment Center. Shoulder to shoulder across the world, this partnership is essential to accomplishing our common security goals.
The Greek-U.S. partnership at Souda Bay and other installations across the country truly do set a world standard for how security cooperation conducted on the basis of mutual trust, mutual values and mutual security interests, can be done right.
But we have to build on this important momentum. That starts with investment. The bill would authorize Foreign Military Financing assistance for Greece to support efforts to modernize its forces and reach its 20% commitment for new procurement. The bill would also authorize funds for military training and exchange programs between our countries.
Recent energy discoveries are having a transformational impact on the region. These finds need not be divisive – indeed they could be an important way to bind the countries of the region together. The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum is facilitating better relations in the region. Eventually it has the opportunity to become an important political grouping well positioned to address issues beyond energy.
At this stage, all energy export options should be weighed and pursued. The Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, if commercially feasible, should continue to be considered. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline and Greece Bulgaria Interconnector Pipeline are on track to become reality.
Both are proof that political commitment to energy diversification can indeed yield results. Every effort should also be made to explore options for LNG transit capacity throughout the region. And countries like Greece and Cyprus with months of non-stop sunshine should be leaders in Europe on renewables, particularly solar.
Our legislation would authorize the establishment of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the U.S., Israel, Greece, and Cyprus. We need to encourage the private sector to continue to engage in the region do what we can to help facilitate and support their efforts.
Greece can and should play an elevated role in foreign affairs. The opportunity is there and we should work together to advance our common interests.
Turning to Cyprus. We all aspire for the day when the island will be one, a bizonal, bicommunal federation where all communities and faiths can live together peacefully. And while the negotiators fell short at Crans Montana in 2017, friends of the Cypriot people must continue to support a peace process on the terms set by both communities. On the island. And not determined or shaped by any outside power. If left to their own devices and without undue influence from Ankara, I’ve always believed that an agreement could be reached. The people of Cyprus, on both sides of the green line, should be allowed that right to determine their own future.
Despite these challenges to the negotiation process, I am glad to see that Nicosia is charging ahead towards a new future for the Republic. It is moving forward with potentially historic efforts to explore for energy within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Republic of Cyprus is taking a bold stand in support of its sovereignty. A bold stand that we in the international community should and must be prepared to support.
Cyprus is enhancing its security relationship with the United States, with an important first step in the exchange of defense attaches at our embassies. We recently signed a statement of intent for cooperation across the board. The momentum in U.S.-Cypriot relations is truly changing with these developments, but now we must put meat on the bones.
We need to be prepared to meet the bold leadership of President Anastasiades and his government with a commitment commensurate with our interests. One that rebalances our posture in the region. One that corrects for past policy shortcomings.
And that is why I am leading the effort in the United States Senate to finally lift the arms embargo on Cyprus. It is overdue. It was the wrong policy under Democratic administrations, it was the wrong policy under Republican administrations and it must come to an end.
Any lifting of the arms embargo is not about weapons alone. It is an indication of political support. It is about treating an EU country with the respect it deserves. And it is an acknowledgement of the sovereign right that it has to defend itself. It is about acknowledging its ability to be interoperable with its allies and so we can maximize counter terrorism capabilities.
Cyprus has taken important steps to clean up its banking system and diminish security ties with Moscow. But much work remains as Cyprus determines where its future lies and we should be prepared to support any effort that rejects Kremlin influence on the island.
And in Israel, the U.S. finds one of its strongest allies, one with which we share an unshakeable bond that extends to security, economics and shared values. Israel’s leadership in defense, energy and counter terrorism serves as the essential anchor for these efforts moving forward.
And that is why the trilateral dialogue among Greece, Israel and Cyprus is so critically important. This is why U.S. participation by Secretary Pompeo in the Jerusalem meeting was so important. As our countries more deeply integrate on security and counter terror, the region will benefit. As the three integrate energy exploration and distribution, the region and European energy options will be better diversified away from the Russian gas station.
In conclusion my friends, we have a tremendous opportunity to change the course of events for the better. With strong support in Congress through our legislation, the relevant players in our American system are focused and engaged.
We are starting the long slow turn of the American ship of state in the Eastern Med. But we can’t rest on our laurels, we can’t expect the policy process to continue on autopilot. We must keep up the momentum and together must make clear that there is no turning back.
Tonight in Athens, I come before you as a true friend of the Hellenic people.
On a personal note, as many in this room know, my family roots hail from Cuba, an island country that has suffered for decades under the grip of unrelenting dictatorship.
I have always drawn inspiration from the Greek people who set the standard for democracy and freedom that we know today, a standard that Manuel Chrysoloras shared with so many Europeans hundreds of years ago.
Cyprus is also an island country, one that has fallen victim to repression, in the form of an external invasion. I deeply admire the resilience of the Cypriot people, so many of whom lost their homes in the north after the invasion.
It is this Hellenic resiliency, this commitment to democratic values and the rule law that is the basis of our renewed partnership. A partnership that will take a sober and clear-eyed approach to the challenges in the region and make the Eastern Mediterranean a more secure and prosperous place for generations to come.
As we collectively draw inspiration for the path forward, I would rely on the immortal words of the Hellenic philosopher Thucydides. He said, ‘The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.’ And yet notwithstanding go out to meet it. That, my friends, is our charge. That, my friends, is our task. That, my friends, is our collective future.
Together in the face of glory and danger alike, let us have this clearest vision of a new Eastern Mediterranean architecture rooted in security and prosperity, one that can benefit all people of the region for generations to come.
Thank you for listening to my vision for the region. Thank you for your dedication to our shared values. And thank you for your commitment to our shared prosperity. Together, may we make this tremendous opportunity before us a reality.”