U.S. and Turkey trade accusations in confrontational NATO meeting

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu traded accusations in a temperamental virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday, according to Politico.

Pompeo said that Ankara had been creating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean with its exploration for resources in disputed maritime waters, and aiding the Kremlin by purchasing a Russian made anti-aircraft system.

Çavuşoğlu meanwhile accused Pompeo of encouraging European allies to oppose Turkey, and of abandoning the U.S. role as mediator between NATO allies by “siding blindly with Greece in regional conflicts”. He also said that the U.S. had refused to sell Ankara the American Patriot missile system.

The U.S. also came under criticism from the Turkish foreign minister for backing the YPG, a Kurdish militia group in Northern Syria who are ideologically allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The PKK have been engaged in an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s, demanding autonomy for Kurds.

The NATO virtual meeting was supposed to focus on a new report about how NATO should adapt to be prepared for the next decade or risks and challenges. 

According to Politico, “some diplomats speculated that Pompeo was using his last meeting to inflame tensions that could make life difficult for the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.”

The NATO report was commissioned following complaints by French President Emmanuel Macron, who complained that the alliance was experiencing “brain death” due to conflicts between allies. The report recommends NATO members abide by a code of good conduct towards each other, and that they “consider establishing a Centre of Excellence for Democratic Resilience dedicated to providing support to individual allies.”

Turkey appeared to be isolated within the group, sources told Politico, with France and Greece speaking out against Turkey’s actions. Çavuşoğlu accused the U.S. of taking a maximalist position in favor of Greek claims to maritime waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias responded by saying that if the Greek position was maximalist, “so is international law.”

Turkey has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, meaning that the dispute between Turkey and Greece and Cyprus cannot be arbitrated by a competent court.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg avoided responding to a question at a later news conference about the accusations of Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu. He said that a NATO “deconfliction mechanism” was helping to mend the relationship between Ankara and Athens.

“We have seen that the deconfliction mechanism has helped to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents,” between the military forces of Turkey and Greece, Stoltenberg said. However, “it is not solving the underlying main problem.” Stoltenberg said he hoped a German-led mediation effort would help to resolve the ongoing issues between the NATO allies.