This ain’t the pipeline, silly!, KNOWS

by Endy Zemenides

In 1992, the Clinton campaign adopted the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” to identify the candidate’s signature question. The controversy over America’s “non-paper” EastMed pipeline and the series of public relations fiascos and laughable explanations that followed is a storyline one might expect to see in the political comedy “Veep.” from HBO, but certainly not in the documentary. on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, “War Room”. Yet if you focus on what’s most important in this diplomatic tragicomedy, you’ll discover “it’s not the pipeline, you idiot.”

The EastMed pipeline has created great photo opportunities and big dreams about energy diplomacy. But despite several years of feasibility studies and trilateral declarations, the pipeline has yet to be deemed commercially viable, no country or company has committed to pay for it, and we don’t know if the ideal customers for the Eastern Mediterranean gas sits at the end of a pipeline that terminates in Italy rather than going directly to Balkan countries or to Asian customers.

Those who argue that EastMed is at the heart of regional energy diplomacy have to solve a timing problem. Israeli gas is already flowing from a field. Gas from Cyprus’ Aphrodite field and additional reserves from Israel’s Leviathan field are expected to hit the market soon. Are pipeline proponents proposing that this gas awaits the development of a pipeline that is not certain (or perhaps even unlikely)? If alternative methods of bringing this gas to market can be developed in the meantime, what happens to this infrastructure?

The fact that the US State Department has identified EuroAsia Interconnector, EuroAfrica Interconnector, FSRU Alexandroupoli, Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector and Greece-North Macedonia Interconnector as projects it supports, which are commercially viable and can be completed in the near future, helping all stakeholders to focus on how quickly Eastern Mediterranean energy resources can be brought online. We can now focus on what is real – not just imaginary.

It’s not just those who lament the end of the EastMed pipeline who need to answer the questions; those responsible for non-paper and parts of the US response must recognize this absolute disaster.

Here’s the good news: Eastern Mediterranean energy diplomacy began before the EastMed pipeline was all the rage (and without Turkey in the picture); it will continue even without the pipeline (and certainly without this Turkey).

Now that we’ve gotten rid of the pipeline, there are some important lessons here.

We need to move the “3+1” to a much higher political level. The fact that there is a debate about whether to classify what has been reduced to writing and distributed to several governments as a non-document, “talking points” or a “message” is comical. That there is conflicting information between the “3” and the “1” as to whether there were any consultations prior to the release of this non-paper is diplomatically inconvenient to say the least. The State Department’s insistence that the “leak” of the document was the problem and the deployment of lower-level officials to limit the damage demonstrates its alarming failure to grasp the unintended political storm that ensued.

The solution requires something that would have prevented controversy in the first place – Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s direct involvement in the 3+1. There would have been no debate on whether there had been any consultations if Secretary Blinken had raised this issue with his Greek, Cypriot and Israeli counterparts. Appropriate policy change would have been accompanied by buy-in from allies and partners, consultation with Congress (particularly with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez), and compliance with the the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership. Without Secretary Blinken’s involvement, none of this happened.

Secretary Blinken has said the right thing about the 3+1 in separate calls and meetings with the Greek, Cypriot, and Israeli foreign ministers, and the State Department has taken significant steps to institutionalize the technical cooperation within the 3+1. Yet after the high level of engagement under the Trump administration (particularly that of Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo), it is surprising that the State Department does not recognize the problem. to keep Blinken on the sidelines of this diplomatic initiative.

It’s time for Secretary Blinken to meet with Foreign Ministers Nikos Dendias, Ioannis Kasoulides and Yair Lapid in the region and bolster waning US credibility regarding the 3+1.

The State Department must stop trying to appease Turkey. The damage control effort has included the insistence that Ankara’s wishes were not factored into State Department thinking. Even if we were to suspend belief and ignore references to the Nautical Geo research vessel and regional tensions in the non-paper or reports (which are not refuted by the State Department) that the document was also presented In Ankara, there has been a disturbing tendency by some state officials to constantly seek openings for Turkish participation in Eastern Mediterranean diplomatic initiatives.

Turkey continues to reflect poorly on every State Department official who tries to do so. A “rules-based international order” – the very kind of order that President Joe Biden himself has set as his goal – is being established in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey does not accept any of these rules – neither the law of the sea, nor the exclusive economic zones which have been legally demarcated, etc.

Turkey does not seek to participate in Eastern Mediterranean initiatives, it wants to dominate them. Ankara’s objective is not that of cooperation but that of regional primacy if not hegemony. It is Turkey’s behavior that has led to a balanced coalition that includes not only Greece, Cyprus and Israel, but also Egypt and enjoys the support of France and others. The problem for Ankara is that this balancing coalition (unlike the balancing coalitions in the South China Sea for example) now includes a much larger total population, more dynamic and innovative economies, a more than capable military and leverage. much more important diplomacy.

Moreover, Turkey’s priorities are contrary to the priorities set out by the United States in the non-paper, in two State Department statements and in interviews given by Amos Hochstein following the controversy. Turkish officials tell anyone who will listen that they also oppose interconnections, which they say are “unsustainable” – in direct contradiction to the state. President Erdogan has said that Eastern Mediterranean gas goes nowhere without Turkey. Renewable energy goals in the region are hampered by the casus belli that Turkey maintains against Greece in the Aegean Sea – for example preventing the development of wind turbines outside a 6 mile radius around the Greek islands (a absurd limitation that would seriously and negatively affect Greek tourism if respected).

US officials recognize that the East Med Gas Forum has the potential to evolve and be as important as the European Coal and Steel Community. For Turkey to be part of it, it must play the role of 1950s Germany instead of the Eastern Mediterranean version of World War II revisionist Germany. State Department officials openly ponder Turkey the day after Erdogan, but continue to try to give Erdogan a seat at the table. It is Turkey’s behavior that must change, not just the way it formulates its demands.

It is certainly an inauspicious start to the year for the 3+1. Fortunately, it’s only January and there’s an obvious change in direction: it’s time for Secretary Blinken to get directly involved.

Endy Zemenides is executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.

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